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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

JFK Plot Called 'Unthinkable'

NEW YORK -- U.S. authorities said a plot by a suspected Muslim terrorist cell to blow up New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, its fuel tanks and a jet fuel artery could have caused "unthinkable" devastation.

But while pipeline and security experts agreed that such an attack would have crippled the U.S. economy, particularly the airline industry, they said it probably would not have led to significant loss of life.

Authorities announced Saturday that they had broken up the suspected terrorist cell, arresting three men, one of them a former member of Guyana's parliament.

A fourth man was being sought in Trinidad as part of the plot that authorities said they had been tracking for more than a year.

"The devastation that would be caused had this plot succeeded is just unthinkable," U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf said at a news conference, calling it "one of the most chilling plots imaginable."

In an indictment charging the four men, one of them is quoted as saying the foiled plot would "cause greater destruction than in the Sept. 11 attacks," destroying the airport, killing several thousand people and destroying parts of New York's borough of Queens, where the pipeline runs underground.

One of the suspects, Russell Defreitas, a U.S. citizen native to Guyana and former JFK air cargo employee, said the airport was targeted as a symbol that would put "the whole country in mourning.

"It's like you can kill the man twice," said Defreitas, 63, who hatched his plan more than a decade ago when he was a cargo handler for a service company.

Authorities said the men were motivated by hatred for the United States and Israel. Defreitas was recorded saying he "wanted to do something to get those bastards" and he boasted that he had been taught to make bombs in Guyana.

Despite their efforts, the men never obtained any explosives, authorities said.

"Pulling off any bombing of this magnitude would not be easy in today's environment," former U.S. State Department counterterrorism expert Fred Burton said, adding that it was difficult to determine without knowing all the facts of the case.

Defreitas, who retired from his job at the airport in 1995, was arraigned Saturday in a U.S. federal court in New York, where he was held pending a bail hearing Wednesday.

Two other men, Abdul Kadir of Guyana and Kareem Ibrahim of Trinidad, were in custody in Trinidad. A fourth man, Abdel Nur of Guyana, was still being sought in Trinidad.

Kadir and Ibrahim would likely be extradited to the United States after court hearings in Trinidad, said Trevor Paul, the top police official in Trinidad and Tobago.

Authorities said Kadir and Nur were longtime associates of a Trinidadian radical Muslim group, Jamaat al Muslimeen, which launched an unsuccessful rebellion in 1990 that left 24 dead.

Kadir, a member of the parliament in Guyana until last year, was arrested in Trinidad for attempting to secure money for "terrorist operations," said a Guyanese police commander who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In the course of tracking their activity, the U.S. Joint Terrorism Task Force learned that Defreitas drove around and videotaped JFK four times in January.

Authorities decided to pounce after Defreitas said on May 27 that he was happy to see that the plan, code named "chicken farm," was moving forward, according to the criminal complaint.