Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 May 2019

New York police arrest four for plot to attack Muslim community of Islamberg

Despite authorities insisting otherwise, a conspiracy has long simmered that the town is a terrorist training ground

Andrew Crysel is one of the four plotters. AP
Andrew Crysel is one of the four plotters. AP

Three men and a high school student have been charged with plotting to attack a rural upstate New York Muslim community with authorities seizing a number of weapons and explosives.

The four are accused of plotting to attack the small Muslim enclave of Islamberg two-hours drive north-west of New York city, court papers show.

The timing of the attack was unknown but when arrested at the weekend the men living in the town of Greece had amassed 23 rifles and shotguns and had three home-made explosive devices, Police Chief Patrick Phelan said. Three of the men were in Boy Scouts together.

"I don't know that there was a specific date. They had a plan in place," Mr Phelan said.

He did not rule out the possibility of additional arrests.

Charged with weapons possession and conspiracy were 20-year-old Brian Colaneri, 18-year-old Andrew Crysel and 19-year-old Vincent Vetromile. A 16-year-old student at Odyssey Academy in Greece was charged as an adolescent.

It was a lunchroom comment by the student during school on Friday that launched the investigation.

"He looks like the next school shooter, doesn't he?" a student allegedly said while showing students a picture of another boy on his phone, according to Mr Phelan.

A student who heard the comment "did what we teach kids to do and told somebody," the chief said.

School security and Greece police interviewed both students and others and "uncovered … a plot to attack an Islamic community in Delaware County, known as Islamberg," Phelan said.

The pictured student was not charged, he said.

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Police also searched five locations and seized the weapons and numerous electronic devices, including phones and computers. Most of the weapons were rifles and shotguns, some of which were legally owned by relatives of the suspects, authorities said.

Three improvised explosive devices wrapped in duct tape were found at the 16-year-old's house.

"They were home-made bombs with various items — black powder, BBs, nails, inside a container," Mr Phelan said.

Greece Central School District Superintendent Kathleen Graupman said the students who reported the comment "changed the narrative".

"They trusted their instincts and used what they learnt in school," she said.

The rural community in Delaware County is operated by The Muslims of America, an American Muslim organisation based in the US, which runs 21 other communities in North America.

It was settled by followers of Pakistani cleric Sheikh Mubarak Gilani. The mostly African-American settlers first came to the area in the 1980s to escape crime and crowding in New York City.

In a statement, the organisation thanked the “tireless efforts of the state, local and federal law enforcement officers who have, once again, intervened to prevent a would-be massacre of our humble community”.

The Muslims of America also thanked the student for reporting their suspicions.

Police and analysts have dismissed accusations that the 24-hectare community is a terrorist training ground, but the claims have persisted for decades — peddled by fringe conspiracy websites such as InfoWars.

In this Sept. 7, 2017 photo, Tahirah Clark, left, and Faruq Baqi walk with New York State Police Capt. Scott Heggelke, center, in the Muslim enclave of Islamberg in Tompkins, N.Y. With them are Maj. James Barnes, second from right, and Muhammad Matthew Gardner, right, a spokesman for The Muslims of America. The troopers were making a goodwill visit to the village. "These folks that live here are American citizens. They're lived here for over 30 years. They built this community. They have ties within, outside of this community," Barnes said. "And there's not a problem here." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Tahirah Clark, left, and Faruq Baqi walk with New York State Police Capt Scott Heggelke, center, in the Muslim enclave of Islamberg. AP

In 2017, a Tennessee man was convicted on federal charges for what authorities called plans to burn down Islamberg's mosque in 2015. Robert Doggart, now 67, is serving time in federal prison.

The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for federal charges in addition to the state charges.

"Anyone accused of plotting an act of violence targeting a religious minority should face state and federal hate crime and civil rights charges commensurate with the seriousness of their alleged actions," the body’s executive director, Afaf Nasher, said.

Mr Phelan credited the students who reported the lunchroom comment with saving lives.

"If they had carried out this plot, which every indication is that they were going to, people would have died," the chief said. "I don't know how many and who, but people would have died."

Updated: January 23, 2019 04:37 PM

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