Two New York men were arrested Tuesday for allegedly plotting to kill Muslims and Israel opponents with a ray gun constructed out of an X-ray system installed in the back of their van.
Despite appearing to be ripped from the pages of a sci-fi novel, an undercover operation gave authorities cause to believe the intent was real. The FBI arrested and charged Glendon Scott Crawford, 49, of Galway, N.Y., and Eric J. Feight, 54, of Hudson, N.Y., with conspiracy to provide support to terrorists with the weapon.
Investigators said Crawford approached Jewish organizations last year looking for funding and people to help him with technology that could be used to surreptitiously deliver damaging and even lethal doses of radiation against those he considered enemies of Israel, The Associated Press reported.
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He and Feight assembled the mobile device, which was to be controlled remotely, but it was inoperable and nobody was hurt, authorities said.
"Crawford has specifically identified Muslims and several other individuals/groups as targets," investigator Geoffrey Kent said in a court affidavit. According to the indictment, Crawford also traveled to North Carolina in October to solicit money for the weapon from a ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan, who informed the FBI. Crawford claimed to be a member.
The men appeared separately Wednesday in federal court in handcuffs and jail jumpsuits. Magistrate Christian Hummel ordered them detained until detention hearings Thursday. An attorney was assigned to each man.
Neither said anything to the crowd that filled the courtroom gallery. They could face up to 15 years in prison. Messages left on answering machines at their homes weren't returned Wednesday.
"This case demonstrates how we must remain vigilant to detect and stop potential terrorists, who so often harbor hatred toward people they deem undesirable," U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian said in a statement.
The damaging effects of the radiation would have appeared only days later, authorities said. The investigation by the FBI in Albany and police agencies began in April 2012 after authorities received information that Crawford had approached the Jewish organizations.
Crawford, an industrial mechanic for General Electric in Schenectady, knew Feight, an outside GE contractor with mechanical and engineering skills, through work, authorities said. Feight designed, built and tested the remote control, which they planned to use to operate an industrial X-ray system mounted on a truck.
According to the indictment, the investigators had a confidential undercover source in place within weeks after learning of Crawford's attempts to solicit money and later an undercover investigator introduced by the source. They recorded meetings and conversations, and in December investigators got court authorization to tap Crawford's phones, the indictment said.
Last June, the undercover investigator brought Crawford X-ray tubes to examine for possible use in the weapon, followed by their technical specifications a month later. At a November meeting in an Albany coffee shop with undercover investigators, Crawford brought Feight, both said they were committed to building the device and named the group "the guild," the indictment said.
Investigators gave Feight $1,000 to build the control device and showed the men pictures of industrial X-ray machines they said they could obtain. They planned to provide him access to an actual X-ray system to assembly with the remote control Tuesday.
According to court documents, the sealed indictment was filed the same day and both men were arrested.
GE spokesman Shaun Wiggins said they were informed Tuesday of Crawford's arrest and he has been suspended from his job. They have no information that any employees' safety was compromised or the act he's accused of occurred there.
Dr. Fred Mettler, the U.S. representative on the United Nations' Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, was unfamiliar with the specifics of Crawford's plans but said it's unlikely such a device could work. Radiation can be narrowly beamed, as it is in some cancer treatments, but the accelerators require huge amounts of electricity, are not easily portable and any target would have to remain still for a long time.
"I don't know of any of these that you can use like a gun to aim at someone on the street," Mettler said.
It's at least the fourth terror-related arrest in upstate New York:
- Six men from Lackawanna, south of Buffalo, were charged in 2002 with conspiring to aid terrorists by attending Osama bin Laden's al-Farooq training camp in Afghanistan in 2001.
- Two leaders of an Albany mosque who were snared in a 2004 FBI sting involving a fictional terror strike were each sentenced in 2007 to 15 years in federal prison.
- Four men were convicted in 2009 in a plot to bomb synagogues and shoot down military planes with missiles. The case was initiated by an FBI informant who was assigned by the bureau to infiltrate a Newburgh mosque located 70 miles north of New York City.
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