By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - An accused devotee of the late Islamist militant leader Anwar al-Awlaki will wait until January to learn whether he will be indicted on New York state terrorism charges, prosecutors and his lawyer said on Monday.
Jose Pimentel, 27, was arrested by New York police last month on suspicion of building a pipe bomb in order to target police and military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was due to appear in court on Monday afternoon to learn whether a Manhattan grand jury would indict him on terrorism, weapons and conspiracy charges. But his lawyer, Lori Cohen, said she and prosecutors had agreed to a month-long delay to allow further investigation of the case.
"Everybody just wants time to be able to fully understand what the case is about," Cohen said.
A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney's office, which is prosecuting the case, confirmed that the two sides agreed to postpone grand jury action until January, saying it was a mutual decision.
Pimentel, a U.S. citizen born in the Dominican Republic who was under surveillance for more than two years, was arrested while attempting to build a pipe bomb, police said. They accused him of being a follower of Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric who was killed in Yemen in September by a U.S. drone strike.
Pimentel's actions became "a lot more intense" after Awlaki was killed, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.
He faces up to life in prison if convicted of all the charges sought by prosecutors.
Cohen would not say who had asked for the delay, or whether she believed the postponement indicated that prosecutors were wavering on the case.
A law enforcement source said in November that federal authorities declined to join the investigation because they did not believe Pimentel was likely to carry out an attack.
But Adam Kaufman, chief of the investigation division for the district attorney's office, said at the time that federal investigators never raised any objections.
The case is the second prosecution brought this year under New York State anti-terrorism laws passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
In May, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance charged an Algerian citizen and a Moroccan-born American citizen with plotting to disguise themselves as Jewish worshipers and bomb synagogues in Manhattan.
A grand jury in that case declined to indict the two men on the most serious charge sought by prosecutors, though they voted for a number of conspiracy, terrorism and weapons charges for both men. That case is pending.
According to the criminal complaint against Pimentel, a police informant secretly recorded meetings with him over several months as he bought bomb-making materials and discussed possible targets. He read instructions on how to build bombs in an article published online by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, police said.
(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Paul Simao)