A New York man helped plan a foiled suicide attack on the city’s subway system around the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a prosecutor told jurors at the start of his trial.
Adis Medunjanin, 27, and two other New York men were recruited by Adnan Shukrijumah, one of al-Qaeda’s top operatives, for a planned bombing of subway lines in Manhattan in 2009, according to the U.S. government. The two other men, Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, pleaded guilty in 2010.
“In September 2009, three men were prepared to strap bombs to their bodies and walk into crowded subway cars,” Assistant U.S. Attorney James P. Loonam told jurors in federal court in Brooklyn today. “These men came so close, within days, of carrying out this act before they were stopped.”
Medunjanin, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Bosnia, was taken into custody after a January 2010 incident in which he swerved his silver Nissan Altima into another vehicle at more than 90 miles an hour, followed by government agents, on an expressway in Queens, New York, prosecutors said. He faces as long as life in prison if convicted.
“Mr. Medunjanin never planned to bomb the New York City subways,” defense attorney Robert C. Gottlieb told the jury. “He never joined any plan to go to Afghanistan to kill members of the United States military.”
U.S. District Judge John Gleeson is presiding over the trial, which may last about three weeks.
Ahmedzay testified today that the plan was to conduct suicide attacks in the subway during the morning or afternoon rush hour because that would create the most casualties and property damage. The plotters hadn’t picked a particular subway line but wanted to hit a busy station such as Grand Central Station.
Ahmedzay, 27, and Zazi, 26, are immigrants from Afghanistan and the three men went to Flushing High School in Queens together. Medunjanin played football and basketball as a teenager and graduated from Queens College with a bachelor’s degree in economics, Gottlieb said.
In August 2008, the three men went to join the Taliban in Pakistan where they were recruited by al-Qaeda, which gave them military training and encouraged them to conduct suicide attacks in the U.S., Ahmedzay testified today. Medunjanin didn’t take part in that training, Gottlieb said.
“If they could return to the United States to do something, anything, it could be a tremendous victory for al-Qaeda,” Loonam told jurors. “Al-Qaeda wanted to show that it could still hit the United States on American soil.”
Medunjanin offered the basement of the Manhattan apartment building where he worked as a doorman for a place to make a bomb, Ahmedzay testified.
The plan was for an attack during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and other possible targets included Grand Central Terminal, Times Square and the New York Stock Exchange, Ahmedzay testified. The terrorist group left it up to the three men to decide, he said.
Medunjanin and his co-defendants decided to attack the subway system after Zazi said that he couldn’t make a car bomb because he had lost a page of his notes from his training and that he could make “a suicide vest,” Ahmedzay said.
The final meeting about the attack took place at Bear Mountain, about 50 miles north of Manhattan, and was between Ahmedzay and Zazi, Gottlieb said. Medunjanin wasn’t there, he said. Ahmedzay testified that he and Zazi told Medunjanin that they had decided at that meeting to bomb the subways and that the defendant had agreed with that plan.
On Sept. 9, 2009, Zazi left the Denver area, where he’d been living, to travel to New York with bomb-making materials in his rental car, Loonam told jurors. At that point, the attack was only “days away,” the prosecutor said.
Ahmedzay testified that the plotters called off the plan because Zazi had been stopped twice by police on his way to New York, and they felt the authorities were watching them. They destroyed the bomb-making materials Zazi had brought with him and he returned to Colorado, Ahmedzay said.
Ahmedzay and Zazi are both cooperating with the government and haven’t been sentenced yet. All three men have been in custody since their arrests.
Gottlieb said the men only wanted to defend Muslims in Afghanistan.
Not a Terrorist
“That was the beginning, the middle and the end of their plan,” he said. “Adis Medunjanin made his decision and he decided not to be a terrorist.”
Medunjanin is charged with 10 counts, including conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, al-Qaeda.
In the Jan. 7, 2010, incident, shortly before he crashed his car, Medunjanin dialed 911 and screamed in Arabic, “We love death more than you love your life,” according to the government. The crash occurred about an hour after law enforcement officers left his home in Flushing following the execution of a search warrant for his passports.
With the car crash, and thinking he was about to be arrested, Medunjanin decided to conduct “his last desperate act of jihad,” accompanied by “his own martyrdom recording” to 911, Loonam told jurors.
Prosecutors said in a court document that Medunjanin admitted after the collision that he was trying to kill himself and others. He tried unsuccessfully to keep the jury from hearing those statements.
Gottlieb told jurors prosecutors were making too much of the car crash and it happened because Medunjanin, thinking he was about to be arrested, panicked.
“It really wasn’t much of a crash at all,” the lawyer told the jurors. “He rear-ended the car in front of him.”
The case is U.S. v. Medunjanin, 1:10-cr-00019, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
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