The suspects were arrested late on Wednesday night, shortly after planting a 37-pound mock explosive device in the trunk of a car outside the Riverdale Temple and two mock bombs in the back-seat of a car outside the Riverdale Jewish Centre, another synagogue a few blocks away, authorities said.
Police blocked their escape with an 18-wheel truck, smashing their tinted SUV windows and apprehending the unarmed suspects.
At a news conference Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly quoted one of the men as saying, “If Jews were killed in this attack... that would be all right”.
James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, all of Newburgh, were charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction within the US and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, the US attorney’s office said.
“They stated that they wanted to commit jihad,” Kelly said. “They were disturbed about what happened in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that Muslims were being killed.”
Kelly said he believed the men knew each other through prison where they had been sentenced on drug possession and assault. Three of the men are converts to Islam and are US citizens.
Acting US Attorney Lev L Dassin said the defendants planned to detonate a car with plastic explosives to destroy the synagogues.
They also planned to shoot Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles at planes at the Air National Guard base in Newburgh, about 110km north of New York city.
The FBI and other agencies monitored the men and provided an inactive missile and inert C-4 to an informant for the defendants.
The confidential informant who broke the case told Cromitie that he was involved with Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani terrorist group. It is one of several militant groups suspected of having links to Pakistani intelligence. Jaish set up training camps in Afghanistan under the Taliban and several senior operatives were close to Osama bin Laden.
Cromitie expressed interest in joining the group to “do jihad”, according to a criminal complaint.