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May 12, 2011 | 17:47 GMT

3 mins read

New York Police Disrupt Alleged Jihadist Plot

MARIO TAMA/Getty Images
The New York City mayor and police commissioner will hold a press conference May 12 to discuss more details in the arrest of two individuals over an aspirational plot to stage an armed assault on unspecified targets in the city. The two suspects were arrested in Midtown Manhattan the night of May 11. The suspected plotters reportedly exposed themselves through intent to purchase illegal weapons and discussing plans on the phone, while the New York Police Department worked to disrupt the alleged plot with quick arrests rather than attempting to build a federal case.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly are scheduled to give a news conference May 12 to discuss the previous day's arrest of two individuals on suspicion of plotting to stage armed assaults in the city. Mohammad Mamdouh, of Moroccan descent, and Ahmed Serhani, of Algerian descent, both of whom are native U.S. citizens born in Queens, New York, reportedly were caught attempting to purchase firearms and grenades. New York Police Department (NYPD) representatives stressed that this was not a retribution attack for the death of Osama bin Laden, as the alleged plan had long been in the works and the pair's discussion of targets, including the mention of synagogues, was very vague. NYPD has stated that the two have no apparent connection to jihadist groups, and the alleged plotters thus exemplify the ongoing threat of grassroots jihadism, where radical individuals develop sensational operational ideas with little to no operational training. Mamdouh and Serhani reportedly made numerous operational mistakes such as attempting to acquire illegal weapons, including grenades and automatic assault rifles, and discussing their plot by telephone. These may have been what exposed them to NYPD. The investigation and prosecution by local rather than federal authorities is an example of the NYPD Intelligence Division's efforts to disrupt plots, rather than building large federal cases. Tactical details of the alleged plot are limited, but it appears it was stopped before the two acquired weapons or developed operational plans. The New York Daily News reported that a police informant originally detected the two several months ago and that their phones have been wiretapped since then. Mamdouh, allegedly the leader, discussed his plans by telephone with Serhani or another individual. Serhani has prior arrests for drug dealing, which the two allegedly hoped to use to raise funds in order to buy weapons. The pair's arrest may have happened during an attempted weapons purchase, or more likely a sting set up by NYPD. This risked their exposure to authorities, even though they could have purchased legal semi-automatic rifles, with which they could do similar damage in an armed assault. The Joint Terrorism Task Force, a federal group coordinating the FBI and the NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau, refused to investigate the case, and the two suspects will instead be prosecuted under state anti-terrorism laws. The NYPD Intelligence Division thus moved in with a criminal investigation and arrests, rather than waiting to build a case. This approach could lead to more evidence and intelligence, while a long buildup risks losing track of suspects but, if successful, has the potential to produce more severe punishments and observe suspects' contacts and possible networks. The NYPD Intelligence Division is a notable exception to large intelligence agencies worldwide. Its small staff tends to carry out investigations unilaterally and aggressively, different from the Counterterrorism Bureau, which works with the federal authorities. This strategy of quick, disruptive arrests has proved successful for New York City; this alleged plot is the 13th disrupted since the 9/11 attacks, and the city has not seen a successful jihadist operation since then.

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