"This is messing everything up for us. People look at us, and they’re afraid," said 28-year-old Ali Popel--a Muslim who was born in Afghanistan. Popel stood on 143rd Street today in Whitestone Friday, talking about the arrest of his neighbor, 26-year old Ahmed Ferhani, on state terrorism charges.
This is just the latest discovery of terror suspects living in the Flushing/Whitestone area – quiet neighborhoods with well-kept homes on rather secluded streets.
In video released to PIX 11 by the NYPD, you can see undercover cops grabbing Ferhani in his car Wednesday evening, near the West Side Highway in Manhattan. Police charged Ferhani bought a hand grenade, three semi-automatic pistols, and 150 rounds of ammunition for use in a plot to blow up synagogues and, possibly, the Empire State Building. Soon after, police arrested Ferhani’s alleged accomplice--20 year old Mohammed Mamdouh—of Parsons Boulevard in Whitestone.
Maria Schneider has lived in Whitestone her whole life. “It’s a very good place to hide, because they mix in very well with the community,” Schneider told PIX 11. “The cells we have in our neighborhood we can’t pick up, because they blend in very well.”
Back in the fall of 2009, FBI agents raided several homes on the Flushing/Whitestone border, looking for evidence in a plot to bomb the city’s subway system. They arrested three friends who attended Flushing High School together, two of them natives of Afghanistan.
Ali Popel knew one of those suspects, too. “Najiballah Zazi. He went to my school, Flushing High School; he sat next to me,” Popel told PIX 11. Zazi pleaded guilty last year to buying peroxide and other ingredients at a beauty supply store in Colorado, planning to create bombs that would be placed on subways. Popel marveled that he knows another terror suspect now, a neighbor. “Two people I know getting arrested,” Popel remarked to PIX 11. Where do you think they’re getting their ideas?, we asked Popel. “I guess if they go to Pakistan or Afghanistan, someone brainwashes them.” Were you ever approached? PIX 11 asked Popel. “No, never,” he told us.
Ahmed Ferhani, who police say was recorded talking about violent jihad against Jews and the West, was born in Algeria. His father is a New York City cab driver, and Ferhani has been living with both parents and a brother on 143rd Street, off Willets Point Boulevard. He once sold cosmetics at Saks Fifth Avenue and was said to have an interest in hip hop. Police say he had talked of growing a beard and curly side locks, so he could look like a Hasidic Jew and gain access to a synagogue, where he would try to plant a bomb.
His accused accomplice, Mohammed Mamdouh, was born in Morocco, but he’s now a naturalized, U.S. citizen.
Ferhani lived a block from the Garden Jewish Center on Parsons Boulevard—and very close to a popular strip mall in Whitestone, where shoppers today had plenty to say. 83 year old Nick Colletta, who once worked for American Airlines—which was targeted by the 9/11 hijackers—said about the latest suspects, “They should be hung. Who the heck are they to hurt Jews or people in church? If I wanted to go someplace, and it’s crowded, you get these idiots placing a bomb? Of course, I’m worried about it!”
A Korean War veteran collecting donations at the strip mall didn’t want to give his name but told us, “We got plenty more of them around, not only here but all over the country. When we put them in jail, we got to take care of them for the rest of their lives.”
Bernard O’Reilly, who works in the Whitestone area, remarked, “I guess you could say they’re hiding in plain sight.”
Yet Jim Schrang, a 9/11 “First Responder”, cautioned that Whitestone residents should not be painting all Muslims in the neighborhood with the same brush.
“They’re just like everyone else,” Schrang said. “They want to raise their kids and have a better life in America.”
Ferhani and Mamdouh, the suspects, are both being held in jail without bail. If convicted, they face life in prison.
Ferhani’s neighbor, Ali Popel, told us about 30 cop cars showed up on 143rd Street Wednesday and Thursday, taking computers and other evidence out of Ferhani’s house. He said Ferhani seemed like a nice guy. “These are young kids,” Popel observed. “Getting brain-washed.”