Man pleads guilty of plotting to blow up N.Y. houses of worship

NEW YORK Wed Dec 5, 2012 5:45am IST

Algerian-born Ahmed Ferhani (L), and Moroccan-born Mohammed Mamdouh stand before a judge during their arraignment in Manhattan criminal court in New York May 12, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Files

Algerian-born Ahmed Ferhani (L), and Moroccan-born Mohammed Mamdouh stand before a judge during their arraignment in Manhattan criminal court in New York May 12, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson/Files

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - One of two New York men charged last year with plotting to blow up synagogues and churches in Manhattan pleaded guilty on Tuesday to 10 charges and faces a decade in prison.

Ahmed Ferhani, 27, admitted to conspiring to attack the biggest synagogue in Manhattan as well as churches to send a message of violence to non-Muslims. Ferhani, who was arrested in May 2011, entered the plea in New York State Supreme Court.

Justice Michael Obus said he intends to sentence Ferhani to 10 years in prison. The judge said that after his sentence, Ferhani, an Algerian immigrant who lived in the borough of Queens, may be deported to Algeria.

Ferhani and another man, Mohamed Mamdouh, were arrested after they purchased three guns, ammunition and what they believed was a live grenade. Police have said the two discussed growing beards and curls to disguise themselves as Hasidic Jews before planting explosives in synagogues.

Ferhani appeared in court without Mamdouh.

Police officials have said the men have no known ties to terror organizations, with the police commissioner calling the pair "lone wolves" after their arrest.

At Tuesday's court appearance, prosecutors read for the first time from transcripts of Ferhani discussing his plans with an undercover detective two days before his arrest, after purchasing what he believed to be a live grenade.

In the transcripts read in court by Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Margaret Grandy, Ferhani expresses a desire to blow up 10 synagogues "with one transmission button."

"Imagine that," Ferhani said, according to the transcripts. "Imagine the ruckus and chaos."

Defense attorneys have argued that the Ferhani has emotional and mental issues that authorities were aware of before he became the subject of the undercover investigation and eventual sting operation.

Ferhani "has been getting institutionalized since he was 17 years old," defense attorney Lamis Deek said after the court proceeding. "The NYPD was called to his house more than a dozen times. They would show up at his house and then take him to Bellevue" hospital.

Deek said Ferhani has behaved in ways that indicated he might attempt to harm himself. (Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Dan Burns and Philip Barbara)

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