MANHATTAN (CN) – Two men accused of plotting to bomb New York City synagogues pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges Wednesday; one man’s attorneys told reporters that an undercover detective entrapped their emotionally unstable client.
Ahmed Ferhani, 26, was forcibly institutionalized at least 20 and possibly more than 30 times in the past decade, his lawyers said.
Attorneys for alleged co-conspirator Mohamed Mamdouh, 20, could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to their indictment, the pair met at Ferhani’s home in Queens with an undercover detective on April 12 to plan how to blow up a synagogue without being caught by law enforcement.
Prosecutors say Ferhani met with the detective on several subsequent occasions to discuss bomb-making, selling drugs to fund weapons procurement, and posing as a religious Jew to carry out the alleged plot.
Mamdouh allegedly said that he had no qualms about killing Jews, and requested that the detective only discuss bombs in person, rather than over the phone.
Farhani and Mamdouh, handcuffed and clad in orange prison jumpsuits, were ushered into the Manhattan Criminal courtroom by several cops for the minutes-long hearing.
After one officer removed his handcuffs, Farhani hugged his attorney Elizabeth M. Fink, a prominent civil rights attorney. At the brief hearing, Mamdouh’s attorney mentioned that the charges against the defendants “dropped a significant level” since the time of their arrest.
At the time of their May 12 arrest, both faced first-degree and second-degree charges, including conspiracy, weapons possession and attempted weapons possession with hate crime and terrorism enhancements.
While the terrorism and hate-crime charges remain, defense attorney Fink said that the conspiracy charges have been reduced to a fourth-degree offense.
“The city of New York for their own nefarious purposes created a situation where these people were accused of the top charges,” Fink said. “Now, the charges have been substantially lowered from first degree, second degree to fourth degree.”
Yet, two of Ferhani and Mamdouh’s charges still qualify as “Class B” violent felonies, carrying potential 25-year sentences.
Unlike most terrorism prosecutions of its kind, Ferhani and Mamdouh will be tried in state court.
WNYC reported that anonymous FBI agents claimed that the “hyped” terror charges would not hold up in court.
At an impromptu press conference, Fink said she believed the FBI “wouldn’t touch it.”
“You don’t think they prosecute down there?” Fink asked. “I spend a lot of time down there. They prosecute all the time down there.”
New York City’s district attorney, however, is taking it very seriously.
“A picture emerges from today’s indictment that describes how the defendants plotted to bomb synagogues in Manhattan in an effort to contribute to what they referred to as ‘the cause,'” District Attorney Cyrus Vance said. “Their desire to commit violent jihad against Jewish Americans is not only an act of terrorism, but also a hate crime. Any threats to the safety of New Yorkers will be addressed swiftly and aggressively by this Office and our partners in the NYPD.”
Fink was quick to tell reporters that Farhani’s attorneys are “five Semites” – four Jews and one Palestinian, she explained – many of whom have long histories representing vilified defendants.
A junior partner on the case, Sarah Kunstler, is the daughter of self-described “radical lawyer” William Kunstler, who defended Stokely Carmichael, Lenny Bruce, and perhaps most infamously, World Trade Center bomber Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was nicknamed the Blind Sheik.
Assisting Fink’s press relations was Dhoruba bin Wahad, who was acquitted in the case of the so-called Panther 21, referring to the number of Black Panthers accused then cleared of plotting to bomb various sites in New York.
Fink said that their case parallels that of Ferhani.
“I think it is really unbelievable that this case came out and was brought 40 years to the day of the Panther 21 acquittal, which is what this case is about,” she said.
Like the Panther 21 case, Fink said she believe her client’s was “political,” stemming from the “personal ambitions” of the Manhattan district attorney and the city’s police commissioner and mayor.
She confirmed rumors that she would use an entrapment defense at trial, which has been used, mostly unsuccessfully, in several prominent terrorism trials across the county. One such case, that of the convicted synagogue bomb plotters nicknamed Newburgh 4, who have yet to be sentenced amid repeated procedural delays.
“The truth here is that our client has a significant psychiatric problem,” Fink said. “The city of New York knew that. The police department knew that, and for their own purposes, they brought this case.”
Her co-counsel elaborated on their claims regarding Ferhani’s psychiatric conditions.
“He was institutionalized by the city of New York anywhere between 20 and perhaps over 30 times over the course of the past 10 to 15 years of his life,” said Lamis Deek, another co-counsel. “He would be subdued, then taken into East Elmshurst for institutionalization.”
Fink added that Ferhani is being examined by two psychiatrists, who will determine his prognoses.
An New York Police Department spokesman could not immediately respond to an email inquiry for comment.
Attorneys will meet again on Sept. 20 to file motions.