A New York man accused of helping plan a failed suicide attack on the city’s subway system around the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks chose to murder Americans, a prosecutor told a jury.
“This case is about the choices that that man made: choices to murder Americans overseas, choices to come back and murder Americans here in New York on behalf of al-Qaeda,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Berit Berger said in closing arguments at the trial of Adis Medunjanin in Brooklyn, New York.
Medunjanin, 28, and two other New York men were recruited by al-Qaeda for a planned bombing of subway lines in Manhattan in 2009, according to an indictment. The plot was stopped within days of its happening, prosecutors said. The two other men, Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, pleaded guilty in 2010 and testified at the trial for the government.
A naturalized U.S. citizen born in Bosnia, Medunjanin faces as long as life in prison if convicted. U.S. District Judge John Gleeson is presiding over the trial, which began April 16.
In his closing argument today, Robert Gottlieb, a lawyer for Medunjanin, said his client’s only goal was to fight on behalf of Muslims in Afghanistan.
“His plan and intent was to join the Taliban and stand up for his religion,” Gottlieb said. “The evidence is that killing was not their intent. That was not their specific and conscious intention.”
Flushing High School
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 three 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.
“He admitted that he was angry at American foreign policy and the way Muslims are treated throughout the world,” Berger said.
Gottlieb said his client had no intention of killing Americans when he went to fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan, as the government contends. He disputed testimony by an FBI agent that when Medunjanin first met with investigators, he admitted that he wanted to do that.
Not in Notes
“That phrase is nowhere to be found in any handwritten notes,” Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb also said the three men were manipulated by al- Qaeda.
“These three guys were the perfect targets,” he said. “They were the perfect targets right from the beginning for al- Qaeda.”
After al-Qaeda asked them to conduct a suicide mission, they agreed and returned to the U.S., the government says. Medunjanin went back to New York in September 2008 and waited for the other two to return, which they did in January, Berger said. In the meantime, he went to school and worked as a doorman in a Manhattan apartment building, whose basement he later offered as a place to build the bombs, the prosecutor said.
“He was readying himself to be a suicide bomber,” Berger said. “This defendant was ready to die and he was ready to kill.”
Al-Qaeda didn’t specify what to target, Zazi testified. Other possible targets included Wal-Mart, 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 during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan during the morning or afternoon rush hour to create the most casualties and property damage, Ahmedzay testified.
Zazi said they agreed to the plot because they were upset about the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
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. So did Bryant Neal Vinas of Long Island, New York, 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.
Gottlieb said Badat’s and Vinas’s testimony showed that they had received extensive training and that, comparatively, what the three men accused in the subway plot received couldn’t even be considered training.
Medunjanin is charged with nine counts, including conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, al-Qaeda.
He 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, followed by government agents, on an expressway in Queens, prosecutors said.
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 where they executed 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.
Keeping a Promise
“Rather than spend his life in prison, the defendant decided he wanted to fulfill the promise he made to al-Qaeda,” Berger, the prosecutor, said.
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).
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