New York City police arrested a Dominican immigrant yesterday after a three-month investigation, seizing the Muslim convert shortly before he could assemble pipe bombs for a terrorist campaign.  At a press conference last night called by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the police commissioner, and the Manhattan district attorney, the trio alleged that Jose Pimentel — also known as Muhammad Yusuf and “Osama Hussein” — had been preparing since August for attacks against returning veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but that the death of Anwar al-Awlaki had accelerated his efforts:

A Manhattan man who became fascinated by the American-born Muslim militant Anwar al-Awlaki was arrested on charges of plotting to build and detonate bombs in New York, city officials announced on Sunday night. …

Holes had been drilled into pipes, sulfur had been scraped off matches, nails were ready to be used as shrapnel, and wires were used to fashion an ignition device, according to a law enforcement official.

Mr. Pimentel planned to test his abilities by detonating mailboxes before embarking on a bombing campaign around New York City, Mr. Kelly said.

“Pimentel talked about killing U.S. military personnel returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly Marines and Army personnel,” Mr. Kelly said. “He talked about bombing post offices in and around Washington Heights and police cars in New York City, as well as a police station in Bayonne, N.J.

“Once his bombing campaign began, Mr. Pimentel said the public would know that there were mujahideen in the city to fight jihad here.”

The timing was propitious.  It would have been easy to cast Pimentel as a clueless wannabe had they arrested him earlier; he apparently talked too much about his aspirations, and his attempts to make contact with Awlaki were so clumsy that the al-Qaeda recruiter had ignored them.  But having the pipe bombs ready to assemble makes the case much stronger that this disaffected immigrant posed a significant threat to New York.

Normally, the home-grown jihadis would be the most difficult to sniff out.  It looks like the NYPD did a good job in this case, staying on top of Pimentel while his efforts unfolded and then intervening at the right time.  Give credit to the New York Times, too, for reporting significantly on Pimentel’s jihadist motivations.  Jeff Duntez noted last night that the AP and Reuters were considerably less interested in motivation.