Jose Pimentel, who is either a would-be terrorist or a stoned entrapment victim, pleaded not guilty today to rarely used state-level terrorism charges which were enacted after 9/11. You'll recall that NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly made a big deal in announcing Pimentel's arrest, holding a press conference in which he held up a theatrical pipe bomb replica that looks something like what Pimentel might have built, had he actually been competent enough to do so.
Pimentel's attorneys claim that Pimentel was entrapped by an informant motivated by a desire to get a plea deal on a drug rap. According to numerous reports, the informant repeatedly smoked marijuana with Pimentel (who once attempted to circumcise himself), and was with him "virtually every step of the plot," according to one source, shopping with him several times at Home Depot to pick up materials to make the bomb. "The fact that we are not involved says something," one federal official told Murray Weiss at DNAinfo.
A Dominican-born Muslim convert also known as Muhammad Yusuf, Pimentel openly wrote online that Muslims were obligated to attack Americans as retaliation for U.S. military action in Muslim countries. But Pimentel's attorney, Susan Walsh, argues that Pimentel was just as a down-on-his-luck loner who was "prime pickings for police overreaching."
Pimentel is one of only a handful of defendants to be charged under New York's state terror laws, instead of federal laws. The FBI declined to participate in the prosecution, and Kelly claims the state charges were brought so that investigators could "act fast." Two men charged with plotting to attack synagogues have also been charged under the New York State terror laws, and some critics say it's because the feds thought the cases were weak.
Lawyers for Ahmed Ferhani, a 26-year-old Algerian-American accused of plotting to attack synagogues along with Mohamed Mamdouh, were also in court today to demand that a judge dismiss the charges. Like Pimentel, Ferhani's attorneys argue that Ferhani was entrapped. Last summer, NYPD Confidential's Leonard Levitt raised questions about the arrests, reporting, among other things, that:
The Joint Terrorism Task Force — those FBI agents and NYPD detectives mandated specifically to investigate all acts of terror — rejected the case in part because they distrusted the police undercover who investigated the two men, law enforcement sources told this reporter. Adding to the feds’ discomfort, the NYPD had refused to allow the JTTF to question the undercover, the sources said.
Ferhani’s lawyer, Elizabeth Fink, says the police knew that her client had a history of mental problems, and had been institutionalized up to 30 times, most recently in 2009. "Sadly, the system has used people suffering from mental illness to make terrorism cases," Levitt wrote. "This is the state of law enforcement tactics in our post-9/11, terror-frightened town."