Four extremists hatched a plot to blow up Kennedy Airport and swaths of Queens by attacking fuel tanks and an underground petroleum pipeline - in hopes of igniting a catastrophic explosion that would eclipse 9/11, authorities said yesterday.
One of the Muslim men, Russell Defreitas, a U.S. citizen who had worked for a cargo company at the airport, boasted to an informant that "he had a vision that would make the World Trade Center attack seem small," authorities said.
"The devastation that would be caused had this plot succeeded is just unthinkable," said Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf.
The ringleaders were identified as radicals with ties to Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. Three suspects, including a former member of the Guyanese parliament, have been arrested. The fourth was still being sought.
Defreitas, 63, was busted at the Lindenwood Diner in Brooklyn late Friday. He allegedly told a federal informant that Kennedy Airport, which handles an average of 1,000 flights a day and 45 million passengers a year, was chosen because of its economic importance - and symbolic connection to the slain President.
"They [Americans] loved John F. Kennedy like he's the man. If you hit that, the whole country will be in mourning. It's like you can kill the man twice," he said, according to authorities.
The bearded defendant, wearing a knee-length, olive-green tunic with matching pants, looked tired and did not enter a plea yesterday during a brief appearance in Brooklyn Federal Court. A patch featuring the continent of Africa and a lion was sewn into one of his sleeves.
Prosecutor Jeffrey Knox called Defreitas the homegrown extremist behind the chilling terror plot whose goal was "to kill as many people as possible."
The group's original plan was to crash an airplane into other passenger jets on the ground at Kennedy "to create a catastrophic explosion," a source said.
When the suspects couldn't recruit enough co-conspirators, the source said, they came up with a new plan: to set off explosions at the airport's fuel farm, a series of storage tanks.
They also were targeting a massive fuel pipeline that runs 40 miles from Linden, N.J., through Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens, providing fuel to JFK.
They hoped an assault on the so-called Buckeye pipeline - which carries 8 million gallons of jet fuel and refined petroleum into the city every day - would kill thousands by causing explosions throughout residential areas.
But the pipeline owner and experts said yesterday an explosion at one section of the artery would not cause a chain reaction.
Investigators said the cabal - which had ties to Jamaat al Muslimeen, an extremist Muslim group in Trinidad and Tobago - had not yet bought explosives but posed a credible threat. The suspects had taken video of the airport and obtained satellite photos using Google Earth software, authorities said.
The group "was very familiar with the airport and how to access secure areas," a source said.
The alleged plotters were identified as Defreitas, a divorced U.S. citizen originally from Guyana who lives in East New York, Brooklyn; Trinidadian national Kareem Ibrahim; Abdul Kadir, a former member of the parliament and former mayor of a city in Guyana, and Abdel Nur, also from Guyana.
Ibrahim and Kadir - who was photographed in 2005 meeting with Guyana's president - were in custody in Trinidad and Tobago. Authorities believe Nur is hiding in the Caribbean.
Kadir, who left his parliament position last year, has connections in Iran, where his son attended school, a counterterrorism official told the Daily News. He had code-named the plot "The Chicken Farm," authorities said.
"Defreitas provided the know-how about JFK. Kadir provided the contacts and possibility for financing," Mauskopf said. "It was a potentially deadly combination."
But any links to established terror networks were unclear.
"There are a couple of shadowy figures in the background," a source said. "Whether those Al Qaeda connections were real or not, we don't know."
At a meeting last year with an informant, Defreitas confided that "he had a vision that would make the World Trade Center attack seem small," the complaint said.
The suspects were under surveillance for a year before the arrests were made here and overseas.
"We had them on conspiracy long ago," a law enforcement source said, adding that the feds didn't move in more quickly because they wanted to see whether the probe targets had ties to Al Qaeda.
Defreitas, who was ordered held without bail yesterday, told an informant in January that he was motivated to attack Kennedy Airport because while working there years ago for Evergreen International Aviation, he saw missiles being shipped to Israel. He told the informant he believed the missiles would be used to kill Muslims, authorities said.
Defreitas "wanted to do something to get those *******s," apparently referring to Jews and the U.S., the criminal complaint said. He also allegedly said he had been taught to make bombs in Guyana.
Authorities decided to round up the suspects because some of them were expected to travel soon.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the NYPD had conducted an in-depth survey of the 40-mile pipeline, and police helicopters and boats were closely patrolling the artery of fuel.
"We have to remain vigilant. ... If we learned anything from this latest plot, it's that they keep coming back to New York," Kelly said, adding that he and Mayor Bloomberg had been kept updated during the probe.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI, NYPD, Port Authority Police and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Kadir's wife, Isha, told The News in Guyana last night that her husband was arrested Friday as he boarded a flight from Trinidad to Venezuela. He had planned to pick up a visa in Caracas so he could travel to Iran for an Islamic conference, she said.
She admitted her family had been associated with the Jamaat al Muslimeen group in Trinidad about 20 years ago, shortly before its failed 1990 coup attempt.
But the mother of eight, who lives about 70 miles southeast of Guyana's capital, insisted, "At no time in our home do we ever think about bombing or doing anything to hurt the United States of America."