A 27-year-old Dominican-born U.S. citizen was arrested Nov. 19 at an apartment in Manhattan as he was allegedly constructing homemade improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The suspect, Jose Pimentel (also known as Muhammad Yusuf), is an unemployed convert to Islam and a follower of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric and al Qaeda figure killed in Yemen in September. Pimentel has been charged with criminal possession of a weapon as a crime of terrorism, conspiracy and soliciting support for an act of terrorism. Pimentel's case continues the trend of self-radicalized grassroots jihadists being motivated by online global jihadist publications — like Inspire, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s English-language online magazine — while his arrest illustrates the importance of grassroots defenders to anti-terrorism efforts. The New York Police Department began surveillance on Pimentel in May 2009 after being alerted by a smaller, local police department, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. At the time Pimentel was living in Schenectady with his mother, who had moved the two of them there after noticing her son’s growing radicalism. During a two-year investigation, police recorded conversations between Pimentel and a confidential informant. Pimentel also maintained websites of his own, including trueislam1.com, which contained a bombmaking guide taken from Inspire. According to police, the reported death of al-Awlaki in a suspected U.S. airstrike in late September 2011
spurred forward Pimentel's plans to attack the United States. In October and November 2011 Pimentel allegedly purchased bombmaking components from a Home Depot in the Bronx and a 99-cent store in Manhattan. To build the IEDs, he appears to have carefully followed step-by-step instructions from an article in the first edition of Inspire magazine that was entitled "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom."
(Pimentel’s is the second case in recent months in which a suspect was arrested while attempting to build an IED based on the instructions contained in Inspire
.) At the time of his arrest, Pimentel allegedly was constructing three pipe bombs. He allegedly planned to test these in mailboxes before building and deploying others. Police said his eventual targets included U.S. military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, police cars in New York City, a police station in Bayonne, N.J., and post offices in upper Manhattan. The planned IEDs were not large or sophisticated, and the resultant damage would have been on a lesser scale than what would have followed from the failed explosive device deployed in May 2010 by Faisal Shahzad
. Still, had Pimentel not been under police surveillance, the IEDs he was building certainly would have damaged property and could have been lethal if properly employed. Pimentel's is the second consecutive terrorism-related case in New York
that will be handled by a state rather than a federal court. The head of New York's investigation division for the district attorney's office, Adam Kaufmann, said the state level would best suit this case, since state law allows Pimentel to be charged with unilateral conspiracy, whereas under federal law, one person cannot be charged with conspiracy. While that may technically be true, based on the criminal complaint, Pimentel appears to have violated federal statutes related to the manufacturing and possession of IEDs. It seems there is some issue here — whether due to frictions between the state and federal authorities, or unease on the part of the FBI or of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York Police Department pointed to the arrest as the 14th successful disruption of a terrorist plot on the city since 2001, a record that demonstrates the value of their counterterrorism programs
. Nevertheless, Pimentel's case is further proof that Islamist radicals have not stopped targeting the United States. Lone wolves present a challenge for law enforcement
because they are difficult to identify. Fortunately for the authorities in this case, Pimentel opened himself to detection through his Internet activities, which included advocating violence against the United States and Internet communications with like-minded people. This allowed New York police to approach and engage Pimentel through a confidential informant — before he could seek out an authentic co-conspirator or operational commander who could have guided and directed him.