Authorities said the four men have long been under investigation and there was little danger they could actually have carried out their plan, NBC's Pete Williams reported.
Investigators say the four, described as Black Muslims from the Bronx, had planned to place bombs at various targets. But New York city police and federal agents got wind of the plot and kept the men under careful surveillance.
In fact, officials say, the men recently bought what they thought were explosives, which they put in storage lockers outside the city. But what the men did not know is that the material they bought was actually harmless, sold to them by informants posing as explosives dealers.
Officials emphasize that the men never had actual bombs and could not have pulled off any attack.
According to court documents, an informant met the apparent ringleader of the group, James Cromitie, in a Newburgh mosque last June. He told the informant that his parents lived in Afghanistan before he was born that that he was "upset about the war." If he died a martyr, Cromitie told the informant, he would go to paradise.
For the past year, the informant has followed Cromitie and three others, David and Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, as they bought a camera, photographed potential synagogues to attack, and scouted out a place from which to shoot at planes at the National Guard base at Stewart airport in Newburgh.
Two weeks ago, three of them met the informant at a Connecticut warehouse to inspect what they thought was a Stinger surface-to-air missile obtained from a terrorist group and plastic explosives. All the materials were actually provided by the FBI and were harmless.
The four are expected to face the charges in federal court Thursday.
Two years ago, two Muslims pleaded guilty to plotting to attack synagogues in Los Angeles. But officials said that they knew of no connection between those arrests and this latest plot in New York.