NEW YORK - Four Muslim men were foiled from carrying out a plot to destroy John F. Kennedy International Airport, kill thousands of people and trigger an economic catastrophe by blowing up a jet fuel artery that runs through populous residential neighborhoods, authorities said Saturday.
Three men were arrested and one was being sought in Trinidad on Saturday. In an indictment charging the four men, one of them is quoted as saying the plot would "cause greater destruction than in the Sept. 11 attacks."
One of the suspects, Russell Defreitas, a U.S. citizen native to Guyana and retired JFK employee, said the airport was a symbol that would put "the whole country in mourning."
"It's like you can kill the man twice," said Defreitas, 63, who first hatched his plan more than a decade ago when he worked as a cargo handler for a service company, according to the indictment.
The plot never got past the planning stages, authorities said.
"The devastation that would be caused had this plot succeeded is just unthinkable," U.S. Attorney Roslynn R. Mauskopf said at a news conference, calling it "one of the most chilling plots imaginable."
Authorities said they were motivated by a pattern of hatred toward the U.S., Israel and the West.
Defreitas was recorded saying he "wanted to do something to get those bastards."
He was in custody in Brooklyn and was expected to be arraigned Saturday afternoon.
Two other men, Abdul Kadir of Guyana and Kareem Ibrahim of Trinidad, were in custody in Trinidad. A fourth man, Abdel Nur of Guyana, was still being sought in Trinidad.
The suspects believed explosives could ignite the pipeline at JFK and destroy the airport and parts of Queens, where the line runs underground, according to the indictment.
The pipeline, owned by Buckeye Pipeline Co., takes fuel from a facility in Linden, N.J., to the airport. Other lines service LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport.
Kadir, a former member of Parliament in Guyana, was arrested in Trinidad for attempting to secure money for "terrorist operations," according to a Guyanese police commander who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Kadir left his position in Parliament last year. Muslims make up about 9 percent of the former Dutch and British colony's 770,000 population, mostly from the Sunni sect.
Isha Kadir, the Guyanese suspect's wife, said her husband flew from Guyana to Trinidad on Thursday. She said he was arrested Friday as he was boarding a flight from Trinidad to Venezuela, where he planned to pick up a travel visa to attend an Islamic religious conference in Iran.
"We have no interest in blowing up anything in the U.S.," she said Saturday from the couple's home in Guyana. "We have relatives in the U.S."
Investigators received information about the plot in January 2006, according to the indictment.
Buckeye spokesman Roy Haase said the company, which moves petroleum through pipelines in a number of states, had been informed of the threat from the beginning.
"Given the nature of Buckeye business and the importance of this transportation network, we have an intense and ongoing communications relationship with the Port Authority, the New York City fire and police departments, the federal Department of Homeland Security and the FBI," he said.
The arrests mark the latest in a series of alleged homegrown terrorism plots targeting high-profile American landmarks.
A year ago, seven men were arrested in what officials called the early stages of a plot to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and destroy FBI offices and other buildings.
A month later, authorities broke up a plot to bomb underwater New York City train tunnels to flood lower Manhattan.
And six people were arrested a month ago in an alleged plot to unleash a bloody rampage on Fort Dix in New Jersey.