The New York Police Department is proud of itself for the arrest of a "lone wolf" terrorism suspect over the weekend, but the timing of the bust and the ambivalence of federal investigators have some suggesting the department had an ulterior PR motive. It was a dramatic announcement about an alarming arrest: An over-zealous convert to Islam, working alone, had nearly completed a pipe bomb that he intended to use on post offices and police stations in the New York area. But questions soon arose about the absence of the FBI at the Sunday NYPD press conference, and on Monday, it turned out the FBI had declined to take up the case because it didn't think the suspect, 27-year-old Jose Pimentel, was a credible threat. Now some of the problems with the case have started making their way into the coverage.
The Suspect: FBI officials reportedly told the New York Police Department twice that they didn't want to take on the investigation into Pimentel's alleged bomb making. "The FBI concluded that 27-year-old Pimentel 'didn't have the predisposition or the ability to do anything on his own,' one of the officials said," according to the Associated Press. Pimentel first caught the attention of police about two years ago, when he lived in Schenectady, reports the New York Post. Since then, he's lived with his mother in Harlem and most recently with his uncle on West 137th Street after his mom threw him out because of his radical views. Despite Islam's ban on drinking and drugs, Pimentel did smoke pot and drank, the Post reported, suggesting his outwardly hard-line views on Islam weren't as strict as he made them out to be.
The Timing: Police surveilled Pimentel for two years on suspicion that he was engaged in some kind of terrorist activity, The Times reports. He reportedly kicked up his efforts after his alleged hero, Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Sept. 30. But police didn't nab him until Saturday, when he was just an hour away from completing three bombs, they said. The arrest "marks the arrival of a welcoming distraction for Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYPD as outlets across the world report on the mishandling of Occupy Wall Street protesters — only the latest scandal that the city’s officials have engrossed themselves in," writes Russia Today. Business Insider also notes that "the timing and tone of the announcement raises questions about whether Bloomberg, et. al. are trying to shift the media narrative away from some recent bad press." Last week the department caught flack for its heavy handed eviction of Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park, in which it first banned members of the press from the area and then arrested some of them later in the day. The last few weeks also saw arraignments in the department's ticket-fixing scandal, and arrests in an alleged NYPD gun-smuggling ring. A strong bit of well-publicized police work would certainly help the department right about now.
The Plot: Pimentel allegedly planned to test his first bomb on a mailbox, then start attacking police stations, post offices, and troops returning from Iraq, police said. But his lawyer pointed out that his very public online profile suggested someone who didn't think he was actually doing anything illegal. "He has this very public online profile...This is not the way you go about committing a terrorist attack. I don’t know whether there’s an entrapment issue at this point—It’s not outside the realm of possibility that there are other people involved," defense attorney Joseph Zablocki told reporters. Pimentel reportedly wrote on his blog, www.trueislam1.com, "People have to understand that America and its allies are all legitimate targets in warfare." The blog is still active, and contains thousands of words Pimentel has taken credit for, praising Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders. Because of his blase online presence, Zablocki said it was as if Pimentel "was inviting the D.A.s office to come and investigate this case because he did not believe that there was anything occurring that was actually against the law."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.