By Eric Yun
The trial for alleged terror suspects Russell Defreitas and Abdul Kadir, who are charged with plotting to blow up the Buckeye Pipeline leading to John F. Kennedy International Airport began last Wednesday, June 30. If convicted, the men face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The target of the attack, the Buckeye Pipeline, is an underground pipe system that runs through Queens and supplies jet fuel and other petroleum products to JFK and LaGuardia airports.
Defreitas and Kadir were arrested along with Abdel Nur and Kareem Ibrahim in June 2007. Kareem Ibrahim was granted a separate trial for medical reasons in June. His trial is not yet scheduled. Abdel Nur pleaded guilty on June 29.
“Between November of 2006 and June of 2007, I became aware that individuals whom I had known for an extended period of time were developing a plan that had as its goal the use of explosive device or material to destroy or extensively damage fuel tanks,” Nur told the court while pleading guilty, according to a report in Bloomberg.
Nur faces up to 15 years in prison when sentenced in November. Nur’s lawyer was adamant that Nur would not be used as a witness against Defreitas and Kadir.
Defreitas is accused of targeting the pipeline and the airport’s fuel tanks to create a catastrophic event that he said “even the Twin Towers can’t touch,” according to court documents.
Prosecutors claim Defreitas recruited a confidential government source to join him in the plot to destroy JFK Airport in August 2006. From there, the government tracked the two men as they conducted surveillance and recruited other men including Nur, Ibraheem, and Kadir.
Defreitas and his co-conspirators attempted to recruit members and funds from the Trinidadian militant group Jamaat Al Mus- limeen, authorities allege.
Defreitas and Kadir are charged with conspiracy to attack a public transportation system, conspiracy to destroy a building with fire and explosives, conspiracy to destroy aircraft and aircraft materials, conspiracy to destroy international airport facilities, conspiracy to attack a mass transportation facility, and conducting surveillance of a mass transportation facility with intent to attack that facility.
The Buckeye Pipeline is a 200,000-mile network of pipes that provide jet fuel and other petroleum products to the airports. Originating in Linden, NJ, the pipe travels through Staten Island, Brooklyn and into Queens, where it passes through heavily populated residential areas four feet below the ground. The pipe providing fuel for JFK runs beneath 157th Avenue through Howard Beach before heading south to the airport.
In August 2002, The Forum questioned whether the Buckeye Pipeline could be a potential terrorist target. Officials said at the time that many safety measures were in place, as above-ground signs warning of pipeline locations do not give its precise locations and any significant decreases in pressure would prompt shutdowns in the pipe either electronically or by human operators.
Joe Delcambre, spokesperson for the national Department of Transportation’s Research and Special Programs Department, explained in The Forum’s 2002 report why he believed the pipes would not create one catastrophic bomb. “The pipes are under pressure,” Delcambre said. “Any loss of pressure caused by a break in the pipe would immediately be picked up by sensors.”
The Buckeye Pipeline is a necessary component to keep NYC’s airports operational. Without it, approximately 380 tractor-trailers holding 10,000 gallons of fuel would be needed to meet the needs of JFK each day and 84 would be needed for LaGuardia.
While there is debate over how much damage an attack on the Buckeye Pipeline would cause, the potential for attacks to the pipes exist. The arrests in June 2007 and an incident in Sunnyside in November 2007 when a MTA construction crew accidentally punctured a tank created further concern about the safety of the Buckeye Pipes.
New York legislators responded with the Pipeline Security Bill introduced by Assemblyman Michael Ginaris (D-Queens) and Senator Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). Signed into law on September 10, 2007 by former Governor Eliot Spitzer, the bill gives the New York State Office of Homeland Security power to enhance security at the pipelines travelling through New York.
As the trial begins for Defreitas and Kadir, it is important to remain cognizant of the possible dangers the Buckeye Pipeline poses to along the pipeline’s route. Residents living near the Buckeye Pipelines should 911 to report any suspicious activity they observe.