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-Qaida’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 Monday. “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 Jan. 7, 2010, incident in which he swerved his silver Nissan Altima into another vehicle at more than 90 mph, followed by government agents, on an expressway in Queens, N.Y., 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.
In August 2008, Medunjanin traveled with Ahmedzay, 27, and Zazi, 26, to join the Taliban in Pakistan, where they were recruited by al-Qaida, which gave them military training and encouraged them to conduct suicide attacks, according to prosecutors.
When pleading guilty, Ahmedzay said the three men intended to “conduct jihad against the America occupier.” Ahmedzay and Zazi, who like Medunjanin had lived in Queens, are both immigrants from Afghanistan. All three have been in custody since their arrests.
Ahmedzay, scheduled to be a government witness in the trial, said he consulted with three al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan in 2008 and that terrorist leaders at first asked him to attack “critical, well-known structures” in New York. The plan was for an attack during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, he said.
Change of Plan
He and his co-defendants decided to change the plan and attack the subway system, based on the amount of explosives Zazi decided they could produce by Ramadan, Ahmedzay said.
Ahmedzay and Zazi haven’t been sentenced yet. Both are cooperating with prosecutors.
Shukrijumah, of Saudi Arabia, was described by prosecutors as one of the “leaders of al-Qaida’s external operations program.” He has been sought by the FBI for years and remains at large.
Medunjanin is charged with 10 counts, including conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, al-Qaida.
In the January 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 the Flushing neighborhood of Queens following the execution of a search warrant for his passports.
Prosecutors said in a court document that Medunjanin admitted after the collision that he was trying to kill himself and others so he could “carry out an act of jihad before he was arrested.”
He tried unsuccessfully to keep the jury from hearing those statements.
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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