Thursday, May 21, 2009

No. 1 Bears' fan Obama shifts to Steelers for day

President Barack Obama may be a Chicago Bears fan at heart. But at least on Thursday, the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers were his football favorites.

The president celebrated the Steelers' title at a White House ceremony.

"It's no secret that I was pulling for the Steelers during the Super Bowl," Obama said. "That's part of the reason why this is so much fun for me."

The president and the players also spent time meeting with wounded U.S. service members and assembling care packages for troops serving overseas.

The Steelers are "generous with their time for charity and for their communities," Obama said.

Joining the president on the sunny afternoon on the White House lawn were Pennsylvania's two Democratic senators, Bob Casey and Arlen Specter, along with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whom Obama called "a maniacal Pittsburgh Steeler fan."

During the presidential election, Steelers owner Dan Rooney, a lifelong Republican, campaigned for Obama in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state. In March, Obama named Rooney U.S. ambassador to Ireland.

One Steelers' star didn't make the trip to Washington — linebacker James Harrison.

Harrison skipped out on the traditional ceremony, just as he did when the Steelers were honored by President George W. Bush at the White House in June 2006.

Harrison's fear of flying may have played a role in his decision, though Harrison joked that the White House isn't in one of Washington's safer areas.

"It's not a good neighborhood over there," Harrison said. "It's a bad neighborhood."

Riding the recession: Selig pleased despite drop

While Major League Baseball's attendance is down 6.4 percent from a year ago and 20 of 30 teams have experienced drops, commissioner Bud Selig is pleased with how the sport is surviving a season of recession.

"The clubs are very aggressive now in the way they're reaching out. I actually complimented them today at the end of the meeting," he said Thursday after the owners' quarterly gathering. "You've got some teams in economic markets that are have really, really been hurt."

The 30 teams averaged 28,661 through Wednesday, down from 30,636 through May 20 last year. And Selig said per capita spending on tickets combined with concessions had been "quite a bit reduced, there's no question about it."

Moving to new stadiums with smaller capacities, the Mets saw average attendance fall 22 percent and the Yankees saw theirs decrease 14 percent. Other big drops were experienced by the Washington (34 percent), Detroit (30 percent), Atlanta (20 percent), Colorado (17 percent), San Diego (18 percent), Toronto (14 percent) and Houston (13 percent).

Just four teams have seen double-digit percentage increases: AL champion Tampa Bay (32 percent), Florida (26 percent), Kansas City (16 percent) and World Series champion Philadelphia (10 percent).

And eight of the 28 stadiums that were in use before this year have set their attendance lows for regularly scheduled games: Atlanta's Turner Field (15,364 on May 18), Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park (9,878 on April 28), Cleveland's Progressive Field (11,408 on April 21), St. Louis' Busch Stadium (35,206 on April 7), San Diego's Petco Park (13,646 on May 5), San Francisco's AT&T Park (23,934 on April 22), Toronto's Rogers Centre (12,145 on April 8) and Washington's Nationals Park (12,473 on April 20).

In addition, the new Yankee Stadium and the Mets' Citi Field have both failed to sell out any game since their openers.

Selig said attendance should be viewed against the standards set in recent seasons. Baseball had a record average of 32,785 two years ago, breaking a mark that had stood since 1993, and the average declined slightly last year to 32,539.

"It's early. We've had horrendous weather," Selig said. "I'm encouraged. Look, I read people saying, `Oh, we're going to be down this, and we're going to be down that. And look at all the empty seats.' And then you compare to last year — remember, let me remind all of you, we're going against numbers that are stunning."

He said 15 or 16 teams held ticket prices even, six or seven cut them and the rest raised them. Many teams instituted discounted tickets and cheaper food prices, including $1 hot dogs.

"Frankly, recession or not, this is the way it should be every year," he said.

Selig defended the Yankees against criticism that they unleashed class warfare at their new $1.5 billion ballpark, which has a concrete moat dividing the $500-$2,625 seats closest to the field from the rest of the lower deck. The Yankees won't let anyone into the first five-to-nine rows of the Legends Suite during batting practice who doesn't have a ticket for that area.

"The Yankees are as sensitive and fan friendly as all the other organizations," he said. "There always has be a real linkage between the management and its fans. ... and I'm satisfied that the Yankees understand that."

Selig was pleased Fox agreed to a request by baseball to move up the start time of World Series games. The network said Monday that weeknight games will begin at 7:57 p.m. EDT instead of the 8:28-8:35 p.m. range last year. Saturday starts could be even earlier; Sunday games will be played after the network's NFL coverage concludes.

He didn't think World Series day games would resume for the first time since 1987.

"Fox says absolutely correctly that Nielsen tells them that their ratings would be 30 percent less," Selig said.

And he defended the sport from critics who say late postseason starts have cost baseball young fans.

"We have not lost a generation, gentlemen," he said. "You don't draw 79, 80 million people and have lost a generation."

On the drug topic, Selig said he has not spoken with Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who according to a book may have used human growth hormone after joining New York in 2004.

Selig wouldn't given an opinion on whether Congress should make HDEA a controlled substance, which would add it to baseball's banned list. He said the suspension of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez was proof the sport's drug-testing system functions.

"No one is above the law," he said. "What the Manny Ramirez situation proved — no one can miss, and let me say this very, very clearly — we have a tough program that is working. And that's what it proved. And anybody who didn't draw that conclusion then doesn't want to draw that conclusion."

Notes:@ Owners approved new heads for the Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays. Jim Pohlad succeeded his father as head of the Twins. Carl Pohlad died in January at 93. Edward Rogers III replaces his father as head of the Blue Jays. Ted Rogers died in December at 75.

Somali pirate suspect pleads innocent in New York

A Somali teenager caught by US forces in an operation to free an American merchant ship captain from pirates last month pleaded innocent to piracy, hijacking and kidnapping here Thursday.

The suspect, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, stands charged in a grand jury indictment with "piracy as defined by the law of nations" in the international waters of the Indian Ocean off Somalia.

It is the first time in more than a century that US courts have heard a case of piracy on the high seas.

But Muse denied any involvement in the April 8 hijacking off the Somali coast in a brief 15-minute appearance in a New York court, pleading innocent to 10 charges.

"We plead not guilty on all counts," his attorney, Phil Weinstein, told the court presided over by federal judge Loretta Preska. Muse's next hearing was set for September 17.

Muse has also been charged with offenses including armed hijacking and holding hostages for ransom.

Weinstein also protested the conditions in which his client is being held, saying "they are giving him medications that he doesn't understand," and adding Muse was "unable to communicate with anyone exept us, once or twice a week."

The teenager was captured last month at the end of a high-seas drama in which Navy Seals killed three Somalis holding hostage the captain of the merchant ship Maersk Alabama. Muse is the sole survivor of the pirate gang.

They had earlier attempted to take control of the US-flagged ship but retreated to a lifeboat with the captain, Richard Phillips.

Before the rescue operation, which freed Phillips unharmed, Muse had gone aboard the naval ship USS Bainbridge, apparently to negotiate.

A lawyer from the group which is defending Muse, Fiona Doherty, said their defense was based on the fact that Muse had voluntarily turned himself over to the US Navy.

"We think he will be exonerated. He was the one who requested permission to board the US ship. He was trying to negotiate for the safety of captain Phillips."

Thursday's hearing was also attended by Somalia's deputy permanent representative at the United Nations, Idd Mohamed.

"We want to send our sympathies to the family of the captain and his team. We are sorry about what happened," Mohamed said, adding his country had full confidence in the US justice system.

But Muse's defense team said they were still fighting to convince the New York court that their client was a minor.

"We have reasons to believe he is a juvenile and we are pursuing this," said Weinstein.

After being flown to New York from Somalia, Muse was charged on April 22 as an adult when judge Andrew Peck rejected a claim by his father that Muse was only 15 years old. Prosecutors said he was over 18.

He faces life in prison if found guilty.

Air Force jet crashes north of Edwards AFB

A military jet with a crew of two has crashed north of Edwards Air Force base in Southern California.

An Air Force statement says there's no immediate word on the condition of the crew of the T-38 Talon.

2 NY plot suspects are known at upstate mosque

A mosque where two suspects in the Bronx terror plot were known is led by a state prison chaplain with a criminal record who had converted to Islam years ago as an inmate, then went on to become a respected community leader, offering support to other ex-convicts.

Imam Salahuddin Muhammad, head of Masjid Al Ikhlas in Newburgh, has worked since 1985 as a chaplain in Fishkill Correctional Facility, the medium-security prison in Beacon, N.Y., and also serves as a chaplain one day a week at Bard College.

"I know the mosque and I know the imam very well," said Lawrence Mamiya, an expert on Islam who teaches at Vassar College. "He's not radical at all. He's very mainstream."

The suspects were arrested Wednesday night, shortly after planting mock bombs outside two synagogues in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, authorities said.

An official told The Associated Press that three of the four men arrested in the plot are converts to Islam. Two had spent time in the mosque.

Laguerre Payen, received post-prison counseling from an assistant imam, Hamin Rashada, who said Payen lacked knowledge about Islam and had "serious psychological problems."

James Cromitie, 55, had been incarcerated more than a decade ago in Fishkill, but Muhammad said he recognized him from seeing him in the mosque, not in prison.

According to state Department of Correctional Services records, Payen had been imprisoned for attempted assault in Rockland County. Cromitie has been in prison at least three times under three different names, prison records show.

Neither imam recognized the two other suspects.

Muhammad converted to Islam when he was in prison, said Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid of The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem who has known Muhammad for 20 years. Muhammad served 12 years for robbery, according to a 2003 report in the Wall Street Journal.

He followed the same path to the faith as many other African-Americans: He started out in the Nation of Islam, then left the black nationalist movement to embrace Sunni Islam under Imam W.D. Mohammed, the African-American leader who spearheaded the break with the Nation.

The Newburgh mosque was once predominantly African-American, but now is a broader mix, with immigrant Muslims from many countries serving on its board and participating in prayer.

"We are teaching tolerance," Muhammad said. "We are teaching respect."

Sharrena Ali, who has worshipped at the mosque for four years, says it is a mix of Arabs, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and people from the Caribbean who are focused on serving the community.

"I was just as shocked to see the report as anyone else this morning," Ali said. "We are just regular people like everybody else trying to live our daily lives."

Muhammad is studying for a doctorate at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, according to Ingrid Mattson, head of the seminary's Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations. He has already received a graduate certificate in Islamic chaplaincy from the school.

"He has taken the Building Abrahamic Partnership class, as well as other classes that aim to build relationships among diverse faith leaders," Mattson said. "From what I know of him, he is the last person to preach any kind of radical message. I am sure that these individuals got their ideas from some other place."

Rashada described Payen as being jobless, evasive and paranoid. Payen was introduced to Islam in prison, said Rashada, who said he had never heard the man make radical or violent comments.

"I'm puzzled," the assistant imam said. "He had given no hint to being interested in anything like that."

Rashada had also recently taken Payen to Wal-Mart to get a cell phone, which he used often. He'd often see Payen chatting on it, but "when he'd see me, he'd start speaking French."

Rashada last saw Cromitie about a month ago.

"I asked him, 'Where ya been?' and he said, 'I'm traveling, I'm visiting different mosques,'" said Rashada.

Pro-Business Group: Humane Society Just as Bad as Michael Vick (Updated)

They let NFL star Michael Vick out of prison today, though he still has to serve two months of house arrest. The former Falcons quarterback has been in Leavenworth for 19 months after being found guilty of financing a dogfighting ring in 2007.
This was the highest-profile animal abuse case of modern times, so a lot of people have something to say about it. Our favorite is the statement from Center for Consumer Freedom, a conservative anti-regulation group (or as SourceWatch likes to call it, a "front group for the restaurant, alcohol and tobacco industries"). They say the real villain here is the Humane Society of the United States.

Apparently the animal protection group once pledged to "help"* Vick's confiscated pit bulls in a fundraising pitch, but then advocated they be euthanized. "HSUS should return every cent" they got from the ad "and apologize for misleading the public," says the CCF's director of research. "If HSUS keeps the money it raised by promising it would care for Michael Vick's dogs, the group is just as morally compromised as [Vick] is."

Coming soon: The ASPCA says pets don't mind being spayed -- but they're not telling you the whole story!

*Update: CCF supporters tells us in comments that in its pitch the Humane Society used the words "care for" rather than "help." Which of course changes everything. Also, we misplaced a comma, and therefore have to resign in disgrace.

Pakistan hotel suicide bomb: the aftermath (Pictures)

September 22 2008: A suicide bomber detonated his explosive-filled truck outside the Marriott hotel in Islamabad on Saturday, killing more than 50 people and injuring another 200. The luxury hotel is located in a high security zone, about 500 metres from the residences of Pakistan's prime minister and president

Obama and Cheney clash over Guantánamo torture

President will say US must respect human rights, while Bush vice-president will argue that harsh interrogation got results

Dick Cheney and Barack Obama. Photograph: AP/Rex Features

Barack Obama will clash today with the former vice-president Dick Cheney over the proposed closure of the Guantánamo detention centre, waterboarding and other hangovers from the Bush administration's "war on terror".

In what the US media are billing as the Clash of the Titans, a rare piece of scheduling has the two speaking at the same time – though at separate venues – on the same issue.

Cheney, who was reclusive while in office, has maintained a high media profile in recent weeks in criticism of Obama for releasing four Bush administration memos about the CIA's torture techniques. He argues that Obama has only provided a partial view of what happened and failed to disclose that the methods helped save the lives of Americans and allies.

Obama is to use his speech not only to counter Cheney but critics from the left who accuse him of backtracking over the release of photos from US detention centres around the world, and by keeping in place the system of military tribunals to try Guantánamo detainees.

Obama is finding it harder to close Guantánamo than he anticipated. But he will argue that the centre and the torture that happened there have undermined the US – and that it is possible both to maintain security and abide by international human rights obligations.

Cheney, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington think-tank that was the powerhouse of the neo-conservatives, will reiterate his call for Obama to release memos that Cheney claims will show the interrogation methods brought out vital information.

Cheney is expected to say: "When he mischaracterises the national security decisions we made in the Bush years, he deserves an answer ... The point is not to look backward. But a truthful telling of history is necessary to inform our choices going forward. Whatever choices we make concerning the defence of the nation, they should be based on a truthful telling of history."

As part of the debate, the New York Times disclosed that a Pentagon report showed that one in seven of those released from Guantánamo later engaged in terrorism or militant activity.

Ahmadinejad: I'm defending Iran's dignity by standing up to West

By News Agencies
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Wednesday that Iran has successfully test-fired a new advanced missile with a range of about 1,200 miles, far enough to strike Israel and southeastern Europe as well as U.S. bases in the Gulf.

U.S. sources later confirmed the test, adding that the administration was looking into its range as well as other data.

The solid-fuel Sajil-2 surface-to-surface missile is a new version of the Sajjil missile, which Iran said it had successfully tested late last year with a similar range.

"The Sajil 2 missile, which has an advanced technology, was launched today ... and it landed exactly on the target," Ahmadinejad said during a visit to the northern Semnan province, where Iran's official news agency IRNA said the launch took place.

The announcement comes just two days after U.S. President Barack Obama declared a readiness to seek deeper international sanctions against Iran if it shunned U.S. attempts to open negotiations on its nuclear program. He said he expected a positive response to his diplomatic outreach by the end of the year.

Iran's announcement is likely to arouse further concern in the West about Iran's military ambitions. The U.S. and its allies suspect the Islamic Republic is seeking to build nuclear bombs. Tehran denies the charge.

Iran said in November it test fired a Sajil missile, describing it as a new generation of surface-to-surface missile. Tehran said it was ready to defend itself against any attacker.

Washington said at the time that the test highlighted the need for a missile defense system it plans to base in Poland and the Czech Republic to counter threats from what it calls "rogue states".

Three US soldiers killed in Baghdad attack

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AFP) — Three American soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack near a market in southern Baghdad on Thursday, the US military said in a statement.

"Three multi-national division-Baghdad soldiers died when an improvised explosive device detonated near their patrol in Baghdad at approximately 10:40 am May 21," it said, without providing further detail.

Iraqi security officials said earlier on Thursday that three US soldiers had been killed and five others wounded when a suicide bomber targeted the American patrol in Baghdad's Dora district.

The blast killed at least 12 people and wounded 25 others at a popular Assyrian Christian market in the confessionally mixed Baghdad district of Dora.

The US military did not say if the attack they referred to in their statement as a roadside bomb was the same incident.

A total of 17 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq during May compared to 19 last month.

Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 a total of 4,299 American troops have died, according to an AFP count based on the independent website

Earlier this month 10 people were killed and 37 wounded when a pick-up truck blew up in a wholesale produce market in Dora, a district that until a year ago was one of the city's most dangerous areas.

Israeli police remove settlement outpost

Israeli police have destroyed the small illegal settler outpost camp of Maoz Ester in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law and widely considered a barrier to peace.

But the outpost of seven huts, east of Ramallah, was among dozens of sites also illegal under Israeli law, built without government authorisation.

The Israeli move comes after the US secretary of state called for an end to "any kind" of settlement activity.

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned on Wednesday from talks with US President Barack Obama, his Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned settlers the outposts would be removed by force if negotiations failed.

The few families living at Maoz Ester vowed to rebuild the outpost.

Small outposts like it are periodically destroyed and often rebuilt soon afterwards.

But correspondents say it is much rarer and more politically difficult for the government to evacuate larger ones.

Israel pledged to remove the outposts under the 2003 "road map" peace plan, but has argued that the Palestinians have not met their parallel commitments to dismantle militant infrastructure.

Both Mr Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Israel to freeze settlement activity during Mr Netanyahu's US visit.

Mr Netanyahu has said he will not create new settlements, but backs development within existing ones, which he says is necessary to allow for the "natural growth" of their populations.

But in an interview with Arab news channel al-Jazeera, Mrs Clinton said "we want to see a stop to settlement construction, additions, natural growth - any kind of settlement activity".

Israel has also agreed to halt settlement activity, but has continued to build - mainly in settlement blocs on the west side of the West Bank barrier, areas Israel hopes to keep as part of an eventual peace deal.

Close to half a million Jewish settlers live in communities around the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Some are there because of religious and ideological convictions, others live in settlements for lifestyle or economic reasons.

For Palestinians the settlements and the security infrastructure surrounding them are a major obstacle to their hopes of a viable state of their own.

Cavaliers lose Game 1 to Magic and the decline of kick returners - Cleveland sports blog network


Cavalier Attitude: "Point the finger directly at the bench. The Cavs' reserves scored all of five points, all of 'em by Joe Smith. Nothing from Wally Szczerbiak, Ben Wallace or Daniel Gibson's corpse. The pine combined to shoot 2-for-7 and the Cavs were a stunning minus-14 when Wallace was in the game. » Read more

Cavs HQ: "The Cavaliers are not going to win this series if they allow the Magic to shoot 55% from the floor here in Cleveland. The Cavaliers gave up 50 points in the paint, 28 of which came from Dwight Howard, who made more hook shots than I've ever seen him make. While there will be plenty of conversation about how the Cavaliers could have scored the two extra points they needed to win this game (it's coming up in the next paragraph actually), the much more reliable solution would have been to hold the Magic to less than 107 points, and less than 59 points in the second half." » Read more

CursedCleveland: "The end of the game was what makes the NBA - and specifically the NBA playoffs - the best thing in all of sports to witness. Last night, tonight and the Boston/Chicago series display the best when players start answering back and forth in the clutch. LeBron, Rashard Lewis, and Delonte West all made HUUUUGE shots down the stretch, but as far as the Cavs are concerned, Andy Varejao has to contest a 3-ball at the end and make Rashard drive around him, kind of like the way Rashard drove around him all night." » Read more

And One takes a deeper look at Jerry West's comments proclaiming LeBron James better than Kobe Bryant.


No Logo Needed: "Players tend to flame out after one to two years of solid return production. The human joystick, Dante Hall, is the perfect example. In 2003, Hall was all the rage with four returns for touchdowns. He was fourth in kickoff return average and was first in punt return average. The next season, he dropped to fifth in kickoff average, had only two touchdowns, and dropped to eighth in punt return average. He has not been back in the top 10 in kickoff return average since. After Cribbs' stellar 2007, his production fell off last season as he dropped to 16th in kick off returns with a 25.3 yard average and only scored one touchdown. He dropped to 17th in punt returns with an 8.1-yard average. With his decline in production last season, is Cribbs already past his kick returner prime?"

Republicans to seek Pelosi investigation: source

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Republicans in the House of Representatives will call Thursday for a formal probe into Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's charges that the CIA misled her on alleged torture, an official said.

"House Republicans will call today for a bipartisan investigation of Speaker Pelosi with regards to allegations the CIA lied to her" about interrogations of suspected terrorists, a senior Republican aide said on condition of anonymity.

It was not clear exactly what sort of probe Republicans were seeking into Pelosi's allegations last week that the CIA misled her and other top lawmakers about the use of techniques widely seen as torture.

But the speaker, President Barack Obama's top ally in the House, has been under pressure from Republicans to substantiate her headline-grabbing charges against the Central Intelligence Agency.

Pelosi said last week that the CIA briefed her just once, in September 2002, on tactics such as the controlled drowning known as waterboarding, and then only told her that then-president George W. Bush's legal advisers had concluded it was legal and that it was not in use.

Pelosi noted that it was later revealed that the practice was already in use at the time, and that the CIA had only acknowledged that fact in a February 2003 briefing that one of her top staff attended.

At that point, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Jane Harman, wrote a letter of protest to the CIA's top lawyer -- a letter Pelosi says she agreed with, but did not sign, and did not send a letter of her own.

The CIA has said its records into briefings for lawmakers in 2002 and 2003 show lawmakers were told that top suspected terrorists were questioned with techniques like waterboarding -- but emphasized that those records may not be reliable.

New York 'bomb gang' due in court

Four men accused of plotting to bomb New York synagogues and fire Stinger missiles at aircraft are due in court on weapons and conspiracy charges.

They were arrested on Wednesday after planting what they thought were bombs at two Bronx synagogues.

Visiting one of the synagogues, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said all four "wanted to commit jihad".

New York has been on alert since 9/11. The mayor praised police for stopping a potentially "terrible event".

The men had agreed to buy explosives from FBI agents posing as Islamic militants.

The four are charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction within the US and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, officials said.

The charges carry jail terms of between 25 years and life imprisonment.

The four, all Muslims, are to appear in a federal court in White Plains, New York later on Thursday.

They were named as James Cromitie (also known as Abdul Rahman), David Williams (aka Daoud and DL), Onta Williams (aka Hamza) and Laguerre Payen (aka Amin and Almondo).

A senior FBI official in New York said three were US citizens and one was from Haiti.

BBC defence and security correspondent Rob Watson says the case appears to be a classic sting operation against suspected home-grown militants rather than a plot with any links to known international terrorism.

'No risk'

Speaking outside the Riverdale Temple, one of the intended targets, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the work of New York's police and the FBI.

The four have all made anti-Semitic statements, the police chief says
The alleged plot served as a reminder to New Yorkers to remain vigilant "at all times", the mayor said.

"The bottom line is that we have to be constantly vigilant and we have to constantly be sure that we have the best police department in the world, that they are well led and well trained."

Mr Kelly, the police commissioner, stressed that the arrests were the result of a lengthy operation and that despite the serious nature of the charges, no-one was ever actually put at risk.

According to prosecutors, the men planned to detonate cars packed with C-4 plastic explosives outside the Riverdale Temple and the Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx district of the city.

They also intended to target military planes at the New York Air National Guard base at Stewart Airport, 60 miles (85 km) north of New York City.

In their efforts to obtain weapons for the attack, the men dealt with an informant from the FBI, who provided the group "with an inactive missile and inert explosives."

"This was a very tightly-controlled operation but these individuals did place bombs - or what they thought were bombs - right in front of the building in which we are standing and the temple a few blocks away," Mr Kelly said.

'Sought weapons'

Outlining the charges on Wednesday night, law enforcement officials said the group set up what they believed to be 30lbs (14kg) of explosives.

According to prosecutors, Mr Cromitie - whose parents are from Afghanistan - told an FBI informant in June 2008 that he was angry over the US-led war in Afghanistan.

The suspects allegedly wanted to attack National Guard planes
He "expressed an interest in 'doing something to America"'.

From October 2008, the informant began meeting him regularly along with the four others at a house in which the FBI had concealed video and audio equipment.

The group allegedly "expressed desire" to attack targets in New York and Mr Cromitie "asked the informant to supply surface-to-air guided missiles and explosives", prosecutors say.

In April 2009, the group agreed on the synagogues they intended to attack and proceeded to conduct surveillance, including taking photographs of the warplanes at the military base, prosecutors say.

Mr Cromitie allegedly pointed out Jews in the street, saying "if he had a gun, he would shoot each one in the head", according to the district attorney's statement.

According to the statement, he told the informant that attacking the Jewish community centre would be a "piece of cake".

He also said he would be interested in joining Jaish-e-Mohammed - a Pakistan-based group considered a terrorist organisation by Washington - "to do jihad".