The arrest yesterday of Jose Pimentel on charges that he was trying to assemble and detonate a bomb in New York City was given prominence at a City Hall news conference last night hosted by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But Talking Points Memo reported soon after that “a pretty embarrassing Day Two version of the story” exists, in which “the FBI actually declined to take this case several times.” The New York Times also reports that the case was declined “because of issues the FBI had with it,” but an anonymous source failed to elaborate. Pimentel was arrested Saturday in a police informant’s apartment after he was videotaped drilling holes in three pipes. He had been under NYPD surveillance for more than two years.
Pimentel, Bloomberg noted, has no connection to terror networks abroad and “appears to be a total lone wolf.” He converted to Islam and spoke of his desire to train in Yemen “before returning to New York to become a martyr in the name of jihad,” Kelly explained at the press conference. Pimentel kept a website at www.trueislam1.com, which included bomb-making directions from the online Al Qaeda magazine Inspire, also the creation of an American citizen. Pimentel is said to have looked up to Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric recently killed in Yemen.*
But more information on the seriousness of Pimentel’s threat, as suggested by the absence of the FBI in the investigation, could indicate that the arrest was more insignificant than it appeared last night. Pimentel reportedly kept an informant updated about his progress. “We weren’t going to wait around to figure out what he wanted do with his bombs,” said a law enforcement official. “He was in Harlem about an hour from actually having assembled the bombs” at the time of his arrest, but had all the “unassembled components ready to go.”
Kelly said the Justice Department was aware of the investigation, but was not involved in the arrest because of its rushed nature. “We had to act quickly yesterday because he was in fact putting this bomb together, drilling a hole, and it would have been not appropriate for us to let him walk out the door with the bomb,” Kelly said. Bloomberg said this was the fourteenth terror threat targeting New York City that had been neutralized since September 11.
Update: “I don’t believe that this case is nearly as strong as the people believe,” said Joseph Zablocki, Pimentel’s lawyer. “[Pimentel] has this very public online profile. … This is not the way you go about committing a terrorist attack.”
A law enforcement official told the Associated Press that the FBI decided that Pimentel “didn’t have the predisposition or the ability to do anything on his own.”
* Al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen, not in Pakistan as previously stated.