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FBI Foils Alleged Attack on JFK Airport

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And NPR's Dina Temple-Raston is here to tell us how that process began. Let's work through this the way that investigators would have had to. What was the first thing they found?

DINA TEMPLE: Well, my sources tell me that the plot actually came to light through a CIA intercept from South America. They're not providing a lot of details about that, naturally, but there was some communication between the men and an extremist Islamist group called Jamaat al Muslimeen. And Jamaat al Muslimeen was behind the 1990 coup in Trinidad, and they're considered quite an extremist group.

INSKEEP: So you have people already in the United States, already hatching this plot and reaching out for support to an extremist group outside the country?

TEMPLE: Exactly. And that's what's worrying investigators, is that they were actually going overseas to get expertise, and they were going overseas to get financing for a plot that was actually hatched here in the United States.

INSKEEP: Now how did they take this communication and turn it into something that could be a criminal case?

TEMPLE: Well, they had an informant that was inside. In that way, it's very much like the case we saw last month in Fort Dix. The informant actually was a twice-convicted drug dealer, which is a little bit problematic, but he'd gotten inside this actual group and had taped them and videotaped them and got quite a bit - allegedly, got quite a bit of information from them.

INSKEEP: The FBI set up this guy and sent him in to...

TEMPLE: Exactly.

INSKEEP: ...recruited him and said you pretend you're...

TEMPLE: Well, he happened to go to the same mosque as one of the men in Brooklyn, and they recognized each other, started talking. He was - this man, his name is Defreitas - Russell Defreitas, and he's sort of the mastermind behind this - or allegedly the mastermind. And they knew each other from the mosque and before you knew it, he was being brought into the plan.

INSKEEP: So the informant was, you said, videotaping, recording, a bunch of things were happening?

TEMPLE: Everything. They were in the car, actually casing John F.K. Airport, allegedly, and they had set up cameras and audio in the car so that they could record what they were doing.

INSKEEP: So how serious was this plot, really?

TEMPLE: Well, the FBI - my sources at the FBI are calling it like Fort Dix light. In other words, they didn't get explosives, but what's more troubling to them is that they were reaching out overseas to get expertise and financing. And that hasn't happened in one of these homegrown terrorism cases before.

INSKEEP: I want to just remind people, Fort Dix you're referring to, that's a military base in New Jersey where some people were allegedly plotting to kill U.S. service members. You're saying that plot was actually more advanced than the John F. Kennedy Airport plot?

TEMPLE: Exactly. They'd actually been able to secure weapons in that plot.

INSKEEP: So how significant is it, then, that you had people in the United States - however early their plans may have been - people in the United States who came up with the plot themselves, including at least one American citizen? And then they were reaching overseas rather than getting instructions from overseas and the recruiting coming from there.

TEMPLE: Well, I think what they're finding more worrisome is that this is actually coming out of the Caribbean. And in the past, they've sort of been looking - authorities have been looking to Africa and the Middle East to find, you know, jihadists either coming over here or providing that sort of expertise or at least inspiration. They'd never thought about the Caribbean actually being a problem. Now, we actually have a problem within our hemisphere. And I think that's what people are going to start focusing on.

INSKEEP: Okay, Dina, thanks very much for coming in this morning.

TEMPLE: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, who covers the FBI for NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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United States & World Morning Edition
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.