A terrorist who plotted to destroy New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport was sentenced to life in prison Thursday. Russell Defreitas, a former air-cargo worker at the airport, was convicted in August of conspiring to bomb fuel tanks at JFK that run through an adjacent Queens neighborhood. If successful, the plot could have killed thousands of people, crippled the airport and caused massive damage to the New York economy.
"It will take out the whole, entire area," Defreitas told a government informant. "The whole of Kennedy will go up in smoke." Defreitas added that "A few people might escape, but to where? The Jamaica Bay?"
Defreitas was angry that military parts were being shipped through JFK to Israel, where he believed they would be used to kill Muslims. More than a decade after his retirement, he decided it was time to find a way to "get these bastards" at the airport.
A naturalized U.S. citizen from Guyana, Defreitas brought in others including Abdul Kadir, an engineer and former member of the Guyanese Parliament. Kadir was sentenced to life in prison in December for his role in the conspiracy.
Evidence introduced last year's trial showed that Defreitas originated the plan to attack the airport and recruited Kadir and others during trips to Guyana and Trinidad in 2006 and 2007. Defreitas and his associates tried to win support from the Iranian government and prominent international terrorists, including senior al-Qaida operative Adnan El Shukrijumah and Abu Bakr, leader of Jamaat al-Muslimeen, a militant Trinadadian group.
But one of those Defreitas tried to enlist turned out to be a government informant. Between January 2006, when investigators learned of the plot, and his arrest in June 2007, authorities monitored Defreitas and company as they videotaped and took photographs at the airport and attempted to win outside support for the attack.
"Russell Defreitas plotted to commit a terrorist attack that he hoped would rival 9/11," said Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. "But law enforcement detected and thwarted the plot, saving lives. Now our courts have dispensed justice by handing out the life sentence that Defreitas richly deserves."