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'Lone wolf' terror suspect arraigned in New York

By Michael Pearson, CNN
November 21, 2011 -- Updated 2238 GMT (0638 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Suspect's family shocked by allegations, his mother says
  • Jose Pimentel is accused of plotting to attack U.S. veterans, police and post offices
  • Pimentel said he was one hour away from finishing his first bomb, police say
  • "He was not part of a larger conspiracy," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says

(CNN) -- A New York man authorities say once pondered changing his name to Osama Hussein to honor his personal heroes -- Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein -- remained jailed Monday on bomb-related charges in what police described as a plot to attack police, military personnel and postal facilities.

Police arrested Jose Pimentel, 27, on Sunday at the apartment of a confidential informant in the case when a video camera showed him drilling holes in pipes that would become the casings for bombs, according to a criminal complaint.

Pimentel allegedly told police he was an hour away from completing his first bomb when he was arrested, according to the complaint.

"Pimentel's behavior morphed from simply talking about such acts to actions -- namely, bomb making," New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

While serious, the charges against Pimentel are a far cry from the mass-casualty attacks that have been al Qaeda's hallmark, and his case may reflect the weakened nature of the terrorist organization in the wake of the death of many top leaders, CNN security analyst Peter Bergen said.

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"If this is the big threat that we face, lone wolves using Internet recipes, we're in a pretty good place," Bergen said.

Pimentel was arraigned Sunday night in a New York court on state charges of possession of a bomb for terrorism, conspiracy as a crime of terrorism, soliciting support for a terrorist act, being a felon in possession of a weapon and conspiracy to commit criminal mischief and arson, according to the criminal complaint.

He planned to attack police officers, patrol cars and service members returning from service abroad, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

"The suspect was a so-called lone wolf, motivated by his own resentment of the presence of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as inspired by al Qaeda propaganda," Bloomberg said. "He was not part of a larger conspiracy emanating from abroad."

New York authorities have communicated with federal authorities, but even though Pimentel's alleged targets were federal troops and facilities, his case will be handled in New York courts, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said.

Pimentel's attorney, Joseph Zablocki, said the case against his client is nowhere near as strong as authorities say.

"As they admit, he has a very public online profile, and that flies in the face of everything that they've said," Zablocki said at the hearing. "This is not the way you go about committing terrorist attacks."

Pimentel, also known as Muhammad Yusuf, according to the criminal complaint, had a "very active and very public online profile," prosecutors said. They cited the website TrueIslam1.

After his arrest, Pimentel told police that he believes Islamic law requires Muslims to wage war against the United States, including assassinations, according to the criminal complaint against him.

Pimentel's mother, Carmen Sosa, said her family is in shock over the allegations.

"I'm upset about what my son did, but on the other hand, he's my son," she said. "I still love my son. I love the son I know, maybe a lot of people don't know."

A neighbor, Simon Islam, said Pimentel was nice but "didn't seem like normal." Still nothing stood out to make him or his wife particularly suspicious of Pimentel, he said.

"It's really shocking because I have two daughters in the building. It's like making me think that this is an unsafe place," he said.

Pimentel's uncle Luis Saverino told CNN affiliate WABC-TV that his sister's son lived with him and that he had no idea what his nephew was up to inside his bedroom, which he always kept locked.

Kelly said Pimentel is a follower of Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical U.S.-born cleric who rose to become a top figure in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula before a U.S. drone strike killed him this year in Yemen.

He allegedly tried to contact al-Awlaki directly before the cleric's death, but never got a response, according to officials.

In August, the suspect allegedly decided to carry out the bomb plot, Kelly said. He "jacked up his speed" after al-Awlaki's death on September 30, 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 of Pimentel. "But it appears at this juncture the death of Anwar al-Awlaki motivated him and made him increase his tempo."

He had also sought to visit Yemen for training, according to authorities.

Pimentel bought ingredients at Home Depot and other stores for the three bombs that he was working to make, mindful to shop around so as not to "raise red flags," according to the police commissioner.

He 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 "mujahedin" -- or Islamic militants -- in the city ready to wage "jihad."

At the news conference announcing Pimentel's arrest, authorities showed a video of a car being destroyed by a bomb they built according to the instructions the suspect allegedly was following.

But Bergen said it's not clear that Pimentel could have built a device that would have exploded with the same force, given that several would-be bombers failed to build devices that successfully detonated.

"Building a bomb from a recipe off the Internet doesn't mean you're going to build a bomb that does what we saw on the video," Bergen said.

An unemployed native of the Dominican Republican and a U.S. citizen, Pimentel had lived most of his life in Manhattan, except for five years in Schenectady, New York. Authorities had monitored him since 2009, and his extreme positions "made even some of his like-minded friends nervous," said Kelly.

The commissioner said Pimentel even talked about changing his name to Osama Hussein -- in honor of his now deceased "heroes" bin Laden and Hussein, the Iraqi dictator.

He allegedly learned how to make a pipe bomb after reading an article entitled "How to make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom" in Inspire, an online English-language magazine published by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The issue that came out just before al-Awlaki's death emphasized that al Qaeda supporters in the West should take matters into their own hands and launch attacks themselves.

"He was a reader of al Qaeda's slick online magazine Inspire -- and inspire him it did," Vance said. "His stated desire to attack our servicemen and women ... could have come from an al Qaeda playbook."

CNN national security analyst Frances Townsend said it seemed odd that federal authorities were not involved in the case, particularly given the targets.

"The feds may have been able to help here," she said. "That being said, they had a successful arrest, and we'll see what we can learn from it."

CNN's Deborah Feyerick, Catherine Shoichet and Hussein Saddique contributed to this report.

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