4 charged in plot to attack Muslim community named Islamberg

This combination of three Jan. 22, 2019, photographs released by the Greece Police Department in Greece, N.Y., shows Brian Colaneri, from left, Andrew Crysel and Vincent Vetromile. (AP)
Updated 23 January 2019
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4 charged in plot to attack Muslim community named Islamberg

  • Police and analysts have dismissed accusations that the 60-acre community is a terrorist training ground, but the claims have persisted for decades

ROCHESTER, N.Y.: Three men and a high school student were charged with plotting to attack a rural upstate New York Muslim community named Islamberg with explosives, authorities said Tuesday.
The Rochester-area residents are accused of plotting to attack the small Muslim enclave west of the Catskills, according to court papers.
The timing of the attack was unknown. At the time of their weekend arrests, the men, three of whom were in Boy Scouts together, had access to 23 rifles and shotguns and three home-made explosives, Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan said at a press conference.
“I don’t know that there was a specific date. They had a plan in place,” Phelan said.
He did not rule out the possibility of additional arrests.
Charged with weapons possession and conspiracy were 20-year-old Brian Colaneri, 18-year-old Andrew Crysel and 19-year-old Vincent Vetromile. A 16-year-old student at Odyssey Academy in Greece was charged as an adolescent offender.
It was a lunchroom comment by the student during school Friday that launched the investigation.
“He looks like the next school shooter, doesn’t he?” the student allegedly said while showing students a picture of another boy on his phone, according to Phelan.
A student who heard the comment “did what we teach kids to do and told somebody,” the chief said.
School security and Greece police interviewed both students and others and eventually “uncovered ... a plot to attack an Islamic community in Delaware County, known as Islamberg,” Phelan said.
The pictured student was not charged, he said.
Police also searched five locations and seized 23 weapons and numerous electronic devices, including phones and computers. Most of the weapons were rifles and shotguns, some of which were legally owned by relatives of the suspects, authorities said.
Three improvised explosive devices wrapped in duct tape were found at the 16-year-old’s house.
“They were homemade bombs with various items — black powder, BBs, nails, inside a container,” Phelan said.
It was unclear whether the suspects had lawyers yet. Attempts to reach relatives to comment weren’t immediately successful.
Greece Central School District Superintendent Kathleen Graupman said the students who reported the comment “changed the narrative.”
“They trusted their instincts and used what they learned in school,” she said.
The rural community in Delaware County is operated by The Muslims of America, an indigenous American Muslim organized based in the US, which runs 21 others in North America. It was settled by followers of Pakistani cleric Sheikh Mubarik Gilani. The mostly African-American settlers first came to the area in the 1980s to escape crime and crowding in New York City.
Police and analysts have dismissed accusations that the 60-acre community is a terrorist training ground, but the claims have persisted for decades.
In 2017, a Tennessee man was convicted on federal charges for what authorities called plans to burn down Islamberg’s mosque in 2015. Robert Doggart, now 67, is serving time in federal prison.
A message seeking comment about the new arrests was sent to The Muslims of America.
The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for federal charges in addition to the state charges.
“Anyone accused of plotting an act of violence targeting a religious minority should face state and federal hate crime and civil rights charges commensurate with the seriousness of their alleged actions,” CAIR-NY Executive Director Afaf Nasher said in a statement.
Phelan credited the students who reported the lunchroom comment with saving lives.
“If they had carried out this plot, which every indication is that they were going to, people would have died,” the chief said. “I don’t know how many and who, but people would have died.”


Sri Lanka churches halt public services over security fears

Updated 31 min 34 sec ago
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Sri Lanka churches halt public services over security fears

  • Potential bombers ‘at large’ as death toll lowered to 253
  • Muslims asked to shun Friday prayer

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Catholic churches suspended all public services over security fears on Thursday, as thousands of troops joined the hunt for suspects in deadly Easter bombings.

A senior priest said that all public services were being suspended and all churches closed “on the advice of security forces.”

Authorities revised the death toll down to 253, from the previous figure of 359, explaining that some of the badly mutilated bodies had been double-counted.

The father of two of the suspected bombers has been arrested on suspicion of aiding his sons.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said suspects remained at large and could have access to explosives. Some of the suspects “may go out for a suicide attack,” Wickremesinghe said.

Hundreds of Ahmadi refugees in western Sri Lanka have taken refuge in mosques and a police station after facing intimidation following the bombings. Scores of Ahmadis who settled in Negombo after fleeing persecution in their home countries have been thrown out of their accommodation by landlords.

Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned on Thursday over security failures. He submitted a letter of resignation to President Maithripala Sirisena.

Britain’s Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka.

“The horrific attack is a demonstration of how tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that originated in this island nation several decades ago returned to haunt a shocked and broken government thanks to a complete collapse of counterterrorism capability or capacity,” Dr. Theodore Karasik, a security expert, writes in an opinion piece.

Hate preacher Zahran Hashim, head of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath group that is being blamed for the attacks, developed a reputation as a preacher who “copied” Daesh propaganda videos to enhance his posts via the pro-Daesh Al-Ghuraba media channel, which used Facebook and YouTube as its primary platforms, Karasik says. 

Sri Lanka’s Islamic affairs minister, M. H. M. Haleem, asked all Muslims to avoid prayers on Friday for security reasons. He also said it would be a mark of respect for those who perished in the nation’s worst violence in years.

Politician and Western Province Gov. Azath Salley told Arab News that the blasts were orchestrated by a handful of extremists and that the island’s Muslim population could not be held responsible for their “deviant” actions.