New York — Authorities have arrested a man they claim was plotting to detonate pipe bombs in and around New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Sunday night.
The intended targets of Jose Pimentel, 27, were U.S. military personnel who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as U.S. postal facilities and police in New York and Bayonne, New Jersey, according to Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
The suspect was described by Bloomberg as an “al Qaeda sympathizer,” though he is not believed to have ever worked with or received training from anyone in that terrorist organization.
“There is no evidence he worked with anyone else,” Bloomberg said. “He appears to be … a lone wolf.”
The police commissioner identified the suspect as a follower of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-born cleric who rose to become a top figure in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Pimental allegedly tried to contact al-Awlaki directly, but never got a response.
An unemployed native of the Dominican Republican who is a U.S. citizen, Pimentel had been monitored by authorities since 2009 and his extreme positions “made some of his like-minded friends nervous,” said Kelly.
The commissioner said that Pimentel even talked about changing his name to Osama Hussein — in honor of two of his now deceased idols, long-time al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Last August, the suspect allegedly decided to carry out the bomb plot. He “jacked up his speed” after September 30, when al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, according to the police commissioner.
“We knew for the last two years, he’s been reading a lot of jihadist information and talked a lot of inflammatory rhetoric,” Kelly said. “But it appears at this juncture the death of Anwar al-Awlaki motivated him and made him increase his tempo.”
Pimentel allegedly planned to test an explosive device in a mailbox before using it against other targets. His aim, the police commissioner said, was to show there were “mujahedeen” — or Islamic militants — in the city ready to wage “jihad.”
He was arrested at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in an apartment in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in northern Manhattan, after he began to drill holes in the would-be pipe bomb, Kelly said. While authorities had monitored him for over two years, they decided to move quickly for fear that device may explode, according to the commissioner.
“(He had) morphed from simply talking about such acts to actions — namely, bomb making,” said Kelly.
The suspect allegedly learned how to make a pipe bomb after reading Inspire, the al Qaeda terrorist network’s English-language online propaganda, recruiting and training magazine.
“He was a reader of al Qaeda’s slick online magazine Inspire — and inspire him it did,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said. “His stated desire to attack our servicemen and women … could have come from an al Qaada playbook.”
Vance said that his office and other New York authorities had long been “in communication with federal authorities.” That said, Pimentel was arrested by state law enforcement agents and will be tried in New York courts.
Specifically, the district attorney announced that his office filed charges Sunday against Pimentel for conspiring to build a bomb for terrorist purposes and possessing a bomb.
Neither Bloomberg, Kelly nor Vance gave details on where Pimentel was being held or when he would appear in court.
It could not be determined Sunday night whether Pimentel had retained an attorney.