Bloomberg News

New York Man Convicted of Scheming to Blow Up City Subways

May 02, 2012

A jury convicted a New York man of plotting a failed suicide attack on the city’s subway system around the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Adis Medunjanin, 28, was found guilty yesterday by jurors in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, on nine charges including conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

Medunjanin and two other New York men were recruited by al- Qaeda for a planned bombing of subway lines in Manhattan in 2009, according to the indictment. The plot was stopped within days of being carried out, prosecutors said. The two other men, Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, pleaded guilty in 2010 and testified against Medunjanin.

U.S. District Judge John Gleeson, who presided over the trial, scheduled sentencing for Sept. 7. Medunjanin, who hugged his lawyer before he was taken away from the courtroom after the verdict, faces as long as life in prison.

“He was readying himself to be a suicide bomber,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Berit Berger told jurors in her closing argument. “This defendant was ready to die and he was ready to kill.”

Military Training

Medunjanin, Ahmedzay, 27, and Zazi, 26, lived in the New York borough of Queens and went to Flushing High School. In August 2008, they left New York 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, Ahmedzay and Zazi testified. The trial began April 16.

“I want to commend prosecutors for the conviction of Adis Medunjanin,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a statement. “His conviction stands as a stark reminder of terrorists’ desire long after 9/11 to return to the city to kill more New Yorkers.”

Robert Gottlieb, Medunjanin’s lawyer, said the verdict will be appealed.

“There were legit legal issues that arose right from the beginning of the trial, and will be part of the appeal process,” Gottlieb said outside the courtroom.

The three men went to a terrorist camp in Waziristan, Pakistan, and were taught to use rocket launchers, machine guns, grenades and pistols, according to Zazi’s testimony. He was also trained in bomb-making, he said.

Possible Targets

After al-Qaeda asked them to conduct a suicide mission, they returned to the U.S. Al-Qaeda didn’t specify what to target, Zazi said. Other possible targets included Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT:US), the New York Stock Exchange and movie theaters, he said.

Zazi testified that when the plotters discussed bombing the subways, he mentioned the No. 3 train, which runs on Manhattan’s West Side, or the No. 4 train on the East Side, because they are busy lines.

The plan was for an attack in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan during the morning or afternoon rush hour, because that would create the most casualties and property damage, Ahmedzay testified.

Zazi said they agreed to the terrorist plot because they were upset about the U.S.’s presence in Afghanistan.

‘Tough Case’

Saajid Muhammad Badat, convicted in the U.K. in 2005 of plotting to explode an airplane, testified via a recorded deposition about his experiences with al-Qaeda, as did Bryant Neal Vinas, a man from Long Island who pleaded guilty in 2009 to charges related to his association with the terrorist group.

Badat is the first terrorist convicted in the U.K. to present evidence in a U.S. trial, the Crown Prosecution Service said in an April 16 statement.

Defense lawyer Gottlieb said after the verdict that “it was a tough, tough case with the audio and the cooperators. We’re not oblivious to the realities in a case like this.”

Medunjanin was taken into custody after a Jan. 7, 2010, incident in which he swerved his silver Nissan Altima into another vehicle at more than 90 miles an hour while followed by government agents on an expressway in Queens, prosecutors said.

Car Crash

Shortly before he crashed, 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 the Flushing area of Queens following the execution of a warrant to search for his passports.

Prosecutors said in a court document that Medunjanin admitted after the collision that he was trying to kill himself and others.

Medunjanin’s mother and sister testified at the trial for him.

Ahmedzay immigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan. Zazi was born in Pakistan. He testified that he had falsely written on immigration forms and told authorities that he was from Afghanistan. The three men have been in custody since their arrests.

The case is U.S. v. Medunjanin, 1:10-cr-00019, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).

To contact the reporter on this story: Ian Thomas in Brooklyn, New York, at ianthomas33@gmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.


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