Michael Wilson wrote up the big local story for Friday's off-lead slot - the foiled conspiracy by four converted Muslims to shoot down a military aircraft and bomb Jewish synagogues in the Bronx. But Wilson displayed the paper's typical political correctness when it comes to radical Islamic terrorism, taking great pains to avoid mentioning the obvious - that the suspects are radical Muslims motivated by anti-Semitism: "In Ex-Convicts' Bomb Case, Steps and Missteps, on Tape ."
The hesitant, wordy coverage reminds TimesWatch of the paper's see-no-evil treatment of the terror plot against Fort Dix, New Jersey in May 2007 when reporter Alan Feuer stated, evidence to the contrary, that "It is unclear what role, if any, religion played in the attack Mr. Shnewer and the five other men are charged with planning."
From Wilson's Friday story, with indications that the suspects are Muslim in bold:
They were four ex-convicts - one a crack addict, another whose most recent arrest involved snatching purses - and they gathered their terror tools as they went.
They bought cellphones, the authorities said; they bought a camera in a Wal-Mart to take photographs of the synagogues in New York City that they wanted to blow up. When their attempt to buy guns in Newburgh, N.Y., fell through - their gun dealer told them she had sold out - they drove downstate, buying a $700 pistol from a Bloods gang leader in Brooklyn.
After months of planning, the authorities allege, the men had their first real scare this month, driving to Stamford, Conn., to pick up a surface-to-air missile that was waiting for them in a warehouse. One of the men in the car believed they were being followed by law enforcement, so they returned to Newburgh, drove around until they were satisfied they were in the clear, then went back to Stamford for their missile and bombs.
They brought them back to Newburgh, locked them in a storage container, and celebrated, shouting, "Allah akbar!"
These details as told by the authorities describe a homegrown terror plot to bomb two synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down a military aircraft in Newburgh. The outlines of the plan were fleshed out on Thursday, in court hearings, documents and interviews, as were bits and pieces of the checkered life stories of the four men charged in the plot.
As for the defendants - James Cromitie, 44; David Williams, 28; Onta Williams, 32, and no apparent relation to David; and Laguerre Payen, 27 - most of the details that emerged on Thursday stemmed from their criminal pasts.
David Williams, who lately had grown a beard and taken to reading the Koran on slow nights at a steakhouse job, was described as particularly violent by prosecutors on Thursday. When the plan to buy guns from a woman in Newburgh fell through, it was David Williams who quickly improvised, arranging to buy a gun from a man he described as a "supreme Blood gang leader" in Brooklyn, Mr. Snyder said. After buying the gun in the company of the informant, David Williams said he would have shot the gang leader if he were alone with him, and kept his $700.
In the 17th paragraph came the silly denial of the obvious:
Law enforcement officials initially said the four men were Muslims, but their religious backgrounds remained uncertain Thursday. Mr. Payen reported himself to be Catholic during his 15-month prison sentence that ended in 2005, according to a state corrections official. Mr. Cromitie and Onta Williams both identified themselves as Baptists in prison records, although Mr. Cromitie changed his listed religion to Muslim upon his last two incarcerations; David Williams reported no religious affiliation.
The men never served in the same prison together. Three of them regularly lunched together at Danny's Restaurant in Newburgh, chatting over plates of rice and beans, said Danny DeLeon, the owner.
Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, the imam at the mosque where the authorities say the confidential informant first encountered the men, said none of the men were active in the mosque. An assistant imam, Hamin Rashada, said Mr. Cromitie and Mr. Payen occasionally attended services.
Mr. Cromitie was there last June, and he met a stranger.
The details dribbled throughout the story, taken together, make it clear the defendants converted to Islam in prison, whether the P.C. Times wants to come out and confirm it or not.
All of this came as a shock to Mr. Cromitie's mother after his arrest on Wednesday. Adele Cromitie, 65, said her son was raised a Christian, and that neither she nor his father, who left the family when Mr. Cromitie was a young child, had lived in Afghanistan. She said Mr. Cromitie visited her, at her apartment in the Castle Hill neighborhood of the Bronx, for the first time in nearly 15 years about three years ago, after getting out of prison, and announced he had converted to Islam.
On the night of April 28, after figuring out where they could get a gun, the men reinforced their commitment to the plan to one another, according to the authorities. They each said they were willing to perform jihad, and Onta Williams spoke, saying the military is "killing Muslim brothers and sisters in Muslim countries, so if we kill them here with I.E.D.'s and Stingers, it is equal," according to the complaint.
A sidebar by Al Baker, "Suspects in Terror Bombing Plot: Drug Arrests and Prison Conversions ," was a little more forthright in mentioning the conversions.
The New York Post, by contrast, bluntly stated in a headline in Friday's edition: "Path to Radical Islam Began in Jails ." The story in the Post, a tabloid mocked by NYC's urban sophisticates, was far clearer and more concise than the Times' rambling avoidance of the obvious:
They were like a million other petty criminals - until they embraced radical Islam behind bars, launching a terrifying march to a planned mass murder that ended only when authorities sabotaged their sinister plot.
"He was not born Muslim. He's an institutional Muslim," saidRichard Williams, uncle of Onta Williams, one of the four Bronx terror suspects.
"He wasn't raised that way."