Two men planned to capitalize on post-9/11 fears by dressing in traditional Muslim attire and displaying a fake bomb while robbing a New York City check cashing store on the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, authorities said.
The plan was called off because there were too many people near the Bronx store Sunday, according to a federal criminal complaint charging 29-year-old Juneal Ali with conspiracy and attempted robbery.
Magistrate Judge James L. Cott in Manhattan ordered the auto body shop owner held without bail after his Tuesday arrest on the grounds that he is a danger to the community.
The judge said he was particularly bothered that the men decided to reschedule the attack for Tuesday morning after backing out of the Sept. 11 plans.
"Even with fake explosives, this set of circumstances if carried out, including threat of an armed robbery, would have been very concerning to potentially a large number of people especially at or around the time it was planned for," Cott said. "This is a hard case because ... nothing actually happened."
Cott said Ali "obviously has some serious mental health and drug treatment-related issues."
The Tuesday plans were interrupted when a third man entered a New York police precinct on Monday and revealed their plan, court papers said.
Ali's attorney, Susan Marcus, said at her client's Tuesday bail hearing that he was not the hoax organizer.
The criminal complaint describing the charges said two men were supposed to wear traditional Muslim clothing as they entered a Bronx check-cashing store. It said they were to display a bomb and compel employees to give up cash.
Ali was arrested early Tuesday as he arrived in a car to pick up the man who planned to rob the store with him, the complaint said. Ali was the only suspect identified by name in the complaint.
Authorities said they found dark-colored robes, an imitation pistol and what appeared to be an explosive device in the car's trunk. They said the explosive device was actually several sticks of road flares bundled together with a voltage meter.
According to the complaint, Ali told authorities after his arrest that he obtained the Muslim clothing from his mother and that he was planning to cancel plans to carry out the attack on Tuesday when he arrived at the accomplice's home.
It also said Ali claimed that the third man recommended that he check out the store two days before Sept. 11 as a potential robbery location after Ali complained that he was strapped for cash.
"I would submit that Mr. Ali is certainly by no means the ringleader or organizer of this hoax," Marcus said. "He was somebody who was brought in."