NEW YORK – Police manipulated a man they knew was mentally unstable to concoct a terrorism case out of a staged weapons buy and ambiguous remarks about blowing up synagogues, his lawyers said Wednesday as they asked a judge to toss out the charges against him.
Ahmed Ferhani's lawyers said hate crime charges and a rarely used state terrorism law have been misapplied to what they have called a case of police entrapment.
"There is nothing in the indictment to show that Mr. Ferhani's alleged unfortunate statements were anything other than hyperbole and speculation," lawyer Elizabeth M. Fink and others wrote in seeking to get the case dismissed.
Prosecutors, who've said Ferhani and co-defendant Mohamed Mamdouh told an undercover detective they wanted to strike a synagogue, declined to comment Wednesday. A hearing is set for Feb. 15. Mamdouh's lawyer is expected to file papers Nov. 30 asking for his case to be tossed, too.
To prosecutors and police, terror charges certainly fit the case against Ferhani and Mamdouh. The two were arrested in May after telling an undercover detective about their yen to attack synagogues and taking a step toward violence, authorities said -- Ferhani bought guns, ammunition and an inert hand grenade in a sting, with Mamdouh a few blocks away.
A grand jury declined this spring to indict the two on the most serious charge initially brought against them -- a high-level terror conspiracy count that carried the potential for life in prison without parole. Still, the men, in their 20s, were indicted on lesser state terror and hate crime charges, including one punishable by up to 32 years behind bars.
Ferhani, an Algerian immigrant, and Mamdouh, an American citizen of Moroccan descent, slurred Jews and aimed to bomb synagogues to avenge what they saw as mistreatment of Muslims around the world, authorities said. Ferhani suggested posing as a worshipping Jew so he could infiltrate a synagogue and leave a bomb inside, prosecutors have said in court documents.
Police and prosecutors said the two posed a real threat to the Jewish community. But Mamdouh's lawyers said the combination of the remarks alleged by police and the staged gun sale don't add up to "the intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population" required for a conviction under the state terror law, passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Ferhani has been institutionalized for psychiatric problems as many as 30 times -- at least five of them after his family called police, his lawyers said. They argue that authorities therefore knew they were dealing with a mentally troubled person.
"It's predatory policing," one of the lawyers, Gideon O. Oliver, said outside court.
The attorneys said they were awaiting a diagnosis of Ferhani's problems and couldn't say whether they might pursue an insanity defense if the charges are sustained.
Ferhani and Mamdouh are being held without bail.