Lawyers for two men accused of plotting to blow up Kennedy Airport in 2007 accused the government Wednesday of trying to turn empty words and futile anger into a criminal conspiracy as a federal terrorism trial of the three-year-old case began in federal court in Brooklyn.
"This is a case about empty words, exaggeration and an overzealous government prosecution," defense lawyer Len Kamdang, the attorney for alleged plot mastermind Russell DeFreitas, told jurors during opening statements.
DeFreitas, 66, a Guyanese-American who is a former baggage handler at Kennedy, and Abdul Kadir, 58, an engineer and former member of Parliament in Guyana, are charged in the plot. A third accused plotter pleaded guilty Tuesday, and a fourth defendant is not on trial at this time for medical reasons.
Prosecutors allege that the plot to detonate jet fuel tanks and a pipeline - which had two dissonant code names, "Shining Light" and "Chicken Farm" - was hatched by DeFreitas in early 2006. A government informant became involved in mid-2006 and secretly taped the plotting for nearly a year.
Kamdang described DeFreitas as a "bitter old man" who liked to "talk a big game" but had no capacity to engage in terrorism without the government-controlled informant - a convicted drug trafficker named Steven Francis - pulling his strings and underwriting his efforts.
"They gave him money. They paid for trips to the Caribbean. They even gave him a place to live," Kamdang said. "Without the government, Russell DeFreitas is all sizzle and no steak."
Prosecutor Berit Berger told jurors that DeFreitas' "own words" on tape - in which he allegedly imagined a catastrophe dwarfing Sept. 11, 2001 - would be the strongest evidence against him, and that the fact the attack failed didn't matter.
"We will ask you to hold them accountable for their plotting, accountable for a plan that would have taken innocent lives," she said.
Berger also alleged that DeFreitas and Kadir tried to make contact with Iran and with a high-level al-Qaida operative named Adnan Shukrijumah to get logistical and financial help. Berger's reference to Shukrijumah came on the same day that an unnamed law enforcement source told The Associated Press that Shukrijumah was behind the New York City subway bombing plot last year - a case that also is being handled by the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn.
Kadir's lawyer, Toni Messina, echoed Kamdang, telling jurors that the government pressured its informant to make a predetermined case against DeFreitas and threw in dark references to Iran to sow suspicion among jurors.
"Separate the fear and hype . . . from the reality," she said.