Jose Pimentel appears to have spent much of his time hanging out on the stoop of an upper Manhattan apartment building, smoking cigarettes and being such a layabout that one old schoolmate assumed he was a drug addict or homeless.
Police arrested the 27-year-old convert to Islam on Saturday and accused him of plotting to blow up U.S. targets — including American troops returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — and launch a one-man holy war in New York City. On Monday, Pimentel’s mother, Carmen Sosa, seemed stunned by her son’s arrest and unable to understand how he could have turned into a radical Muslim.
“I didn’t raise him that way,” Sosa, 56, told reporters who crowded into the hallway of the apartment building where Pimentel had been living with Sosa’s brother.
“I want to apologize to the city. I love the city,” said Sosa, who works at a nonprofit organization helping the mentally ill find housing. “I’m very disappointed with what my son was doing.”
There were varied accounts of the family’s recent history. New York police spokesman Paul Browne said Pimentel had converted to Islam in 2004 or 2005 while living in Schenectady, N.Y. “I’m not clear what drew him to Islam,” Browne said.
He said Pimentel was going through a divorce about the same time as his conversion. “Whether that is related is unclear. Half the country goes through a divorce,” Browne said.
The FBI was noticeably absent from the raid that led to Pimentel’s arrest, and there were indications that federal officials were not convinced he was a serious threat.
Sgt. Ed Mullins of the New York Police Department, who is president of the Sergeant’s Benevolent Assn., said he found the FBI’s absence odd. “Is it a case the feds chose not to be involved in?” he said. “This seems to be the question of the day. My understanding is we generally work together.”
A federal source in Washington said the New York police had been leading the investigation into Pimentel since 2009, collecting evidence and bringing it to the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force. The task force, which pairs federal and local law enforcement in counter-terrorism cases, made the final decision on who would prosecute Pimentel.
“At some point in time, I don’t know when, the case was assessed and an evaluation was made,” the source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Prosecution by the state allows conspiracy charges to be filed even though authorities say Pimentel was working alone.
Residents of the building where Pimentel had been living are a mix of Dominicans and young people studying at nearby City College or Columbia University, like Sean McKenna, who apparently saw no sign of Islamic radicalism in Pimentel.
McKenna, 25, a Columbia graduate student in urban studies, said Pimentel was always on the building’s stoop smoking and sometimes making small talk with neighbors.
“He was the only person in the building I knew ... and he wasn’t talking jihad,” McKenna said.
Michael Echevaria, who knew Pimentel from junior high school, would often come to the neighborhood to visit his grandmother and said Pimentel would be hanging out on the stoop.
“I thought that he was either homeless or a drug dealer at this point,” said Echevaria, who is also Dominican and worries that Pimentel’s arrest could cause New Yorkers to view other Dominicans with suspicion. “We don’t need this.”
Richard A. Serrano in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.