The Imam and assistant Imam of Mesjid al-Ikhlas, Newburgh mosque, recall their first encounters with Shahed Hussain - an undercover informant sent to Newburgh by the FBI in 2008 on a mission to find domestic terrorists. Representing himself as a businessman, Hussain drove expensive cars and made inflammatory statements about women and jihad. Suspicious, the Imams told a few of their congregants to stay away from Hussain, but one man, James Cromitie, bought into his story. Cromitie, a low-level drug dealer who worked the night shift at the local Walmart, was attracted to Hussain’s apparent wealth, and the two struck up a friendship. As seen in hidden-camera footage, Cromitie tried to impress Hussain by telling him that he had been to Pakistan, even though he hadn’t, and bragged about crimes he hadn’t committed, while Hussain claimed to be connected with the known terrorist network Jaish e-Mohammad. The two had casual conversations about their hatred of the West and Hussain prompted Cromitie into discussions about potential targets in the area. Hussain also urged Cromitie to recruit more people – insisting that they be “good Muslim brothers.”
After avoiding Hussain for a time in early 2009, the promise of a $250,000 payout convinced Cromitie to recruit three men – David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen – to execute the terrorist plan. David’s mother, Liz McWilliams, lovingly shows pictures of her son when he was a baby; his aunt, Alicia McWilliams, says that he was a good child but got involved in selling drugs and spent time in jail. Ready to turn his life around, David had recently enrolled in college, but his younger brother Lord became ill and needed an expensive operation. Onta Williams (no relation to David) had also spent time in prison, but was considered someone to look up to in the neighborhood by his friends, and was working in a factory. Payen, an immigrant from Haiti, was destitute; he was living in a one-room apartment and was considered intellectually and emotionally “slow.” No one who knew the men recalled ever hearing them talk about jihad or hatred of America.