Is NYPD Avoiding “Terrorism” Charges in New Years Day Bombings To Claim They Didn’t Miss a Terrorist Attack?

The NYPD has caught the suspect in the New Years Day firebombings in Queens. The suspect, Ray Lazier Lengend, will be arraigned today (though he is also being evaluated for fitness to stand trial). Lengend will be charged with 18 counts, among them one charge of hate crime (for the attack on the mosque), as well as arson and weapons possession charges.

He will not be charged with terrorism.

Now, several of his attacks were targeted at specific individuals: his brother-in-law, Bejai Rai, who evicted him for not paying rent, and the bodega, for busting him for trying to steal a Frappuccino last week. The cops think the Hindu target was actually a case of a mistaken address.

But according to his confession, his primary target was the mosque (against which he also had a grudge, because they once refused to let him use their restroom) and his primary motive was to inflict as much damage on Muslims and Arabs as possible.

The unhinged Queens pyromaniac who unleashed a scary New Year’s Day firebombing spree had planned to take out “as many Muslims and Arabs as possible” by lobbing Molotov cocktails at worshipers inside a mosque, prosecutors said.

Ray Lazier Lengend, 40, allegedly told cops he had planned to inflict “as much damage as possible” by hurling all five of his firebombs from the balcony of Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center onto the crowd below.

Now, given past history, we can be fairly sure that if the NYPD had entrapped Lengend themselves making such threats against, say, a synagogue, they’d have called him, and charged him, as a terrorist. In May, after entrapping Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh (Ferhani, like Lengend, is mentally unstable) by selling them guns, the NYPD charged them as terrorists. Like Lengend, Ferhani and Mamdouh used ethnic slurs against their target.

Ferhani and Mamdouh were arrested May 11 on charges that they wanted to strike a synagogue to avenge what they saw as mistreatment of Muslims around the world. An undercover officer who investigated them reported that Ferhani wanted to become a martyr. The officer said secret recordings caught the men calling Jews “rats” and other names.

Back in May, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne suggested the decision to charge Ferhani and Mamdouh as terrorists was obvious.

Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne rejected the Federal critique and said “When somebody acquires weapons  and plans to bomb the largest synagogue in Manhattan he can find, what do you call it, mischief?”

Eight months ago, two guys in Queens seek weapons and plan to bomb the largest synagogue in the city, they’re called terrorists. Today, a guy in Queens makes bombs and actually does attack the most prominent Shiite mosque in the city, that’s called a hate crime.

Mind you, I’m not sure either of these should be called terrorism. But I do think the NYPD should maintain some consistency about whether bombing a house of worship is terrorism or a hate crime.

Now, I actually don’t think the NYPD has chosen to call plots they concoct through entrapment terrorism, while calling this a hate crime out of any explicit prejudice. Rather, I think they’re doing it for crime stats.

By charging Lengend–someone with a criminal history, so they’ve known about him for years–with a bias crime rather than terrorism, they can sustain their boastful claims about how successful they’ve been at “preventing” “terrorism.” If they actually did charge Lengend as a terrorist, they’d have to admit that, in spite of his criminal history, they hadn’t discovered his plans to commit terrorism. They’d have to admit they’re misallocating the $330 million annually they’re spending to profile Muslims. They’d have to admit that seeking out terrorists among certain religious groups doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find the “terrorists” (as they NYPD has defined them) out there.

They’d rather engage in a blatant double standard, it seems, then admit their domestic spying operation failed.

9 replies
  1. JTMinIA says:

    As silly as this may seem, I’d like it if prosecutors had to establish a goal in order to sustain a charge of terrorism. This would help to distinguish it from bias crimes. The latter, to me, is when the only motive is some characteristic of the victim; it’s otherwise random. Terrorism, in contrast, is when you lash out in what might appear to be a somewhat random manner, but with some long-term goal that you hope to achieve, as opposed to only having the short-term goal of hurting as many people with a certain characteristic as you can.

    Not that I see that much use to the above distinction in that I have no idea which type of crime should be punished more. I know that I’m supposed to think that terrorism is worse than bias crimes, but I can’t see exactly why I’m supposed to think this.

  2. MadDog says:

    Nice deconstruction EW! Now that the NYPD has decided the firebombings in Queens weren’t terrorism, you don’t suppose we could reduce New York’s anti-terrorism budget from Federal coffers?

    Suppose we ask Senator Chuck Schumer: “Terrorists! Terrorists are hiding under my bed!”

    Nope, I guess Chuckles still has us all by the short hairs.

  3. John B. says:

    Terrorism used to mean something and usually terror as a tactic has been used by a weaker party or minority groups against an overpowering enemy or occupier, but now we really don’t have a cue what we mean when we say that someone engages in an act of terror…

  4. pdaly says:

    “Terrorism” charges are reserved for precrimes.

    Completed crimes are something different.

    From a defendant’s point of view, it seems better to be charged with a completed crime, rather than a precrime. At least the judiciary is involved in the former.

  5. P J Evans says:

    The guy from Germany who was busted this week in Los Angeles for serial arson is, according to prosecutors, going to be looking at a possible life sentence because they think they can claim he did it from hatred for Americans. Problem is, there are several people, including his own mother, who say he’s mentally ill. And Germany is interested in him, because they think he set at least one fire there before he came to the US.

  6. Bob Schacht says:

    @pdaly: I think you have the wrong distinction. A bias crime is a crime, therefore involving a domestic matter under the jurisdiction of local police, state AGs and our national DOJ.

    On the other hand (or so they would have us believe), Terrorism is an act of war, not a crime, and therefore the ordinary protectors of the populace are our DOD and military personnel. In Federal terms, this is a territorial issue, e.g., who is in charge of redress? Who is responsible? The FBI, the DOJ, or the DOD? And inside the Beltway, territorial issues are paramount.

    Some people, I think, are actively trying to blur this distinction, which has held true until 9/11.

    I think the people who want to keep terrorism as an act of war, rather than a crime, because they think that our “enemies” will not be “coddled” in a military court, whereas they would be coddled in a domestic court. They want to frame terrorists as “enemies” rather than “criminals,” and the paradigm for dealing with enemies is to kill or capture them. I think there is a great deal of confusion about these issues.

    Bob in AZ

  7. pdaly says:

    @Bob Schacht:

    Bob in AZ, I agree with your distinctions.

    However, If each completed crime is a possible terrrorist act until the feds decline to investigate it as such (in favor of letting DOJ/local jurisdiction prosecute it as a crime), and if the feds decline to investigate the act as terrorism, because doing otherwise would hurt the feds’ anti-terrorism statistics of “preventing terrorism,” then that suggests ‘completed acts’ are less likely to be considered terrorism. These days, stopping precrime by aspirational terrorists, it seems, is where the money is for the feds.

  8. Bob Schacht says:

    @pdaly: But post 9/11, one of the bureaucratic problems that was immediately focused on, was the lack of communication between agencies– and particularly between the FBI and DOD and the CIA. There were good historical reasons for these firewalls, but there was bipartisan agreement that these barriers had to go. Now, sharing information is much better between FBI & DOD, although there are still questions because the FBI’s toolbox includes observation and waiting for a crime to be committed, whereas DOD’s responsibility is more proactive. There is a whole myriad of issues that needs to be sorted out here.

    Bob in AZ

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