NEW YORK | A New York man was convicted Tuesday of plotting an aborted suicide mission against New York City subways in 2009 a case that featured the first-time testimony from admitted homegrown terrorists about al Qaeda’s fixation with pulling off another attack on American soil.
A jury found Adis Medunjanin guilty of all counts for his role in a terror plot that federal authorities say was one of the closest calls since Sept. 11, 2001.
“This is Terrorism 101,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Berit Berger said in closing arguments in federal court in Brooklyn. “The goal of this conspiracy was to kill as many people as possible.”
Medunjanin could be ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison when he is sentenced Sept. 7.
Outside court, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said the conviction demonstrated how authorities must remain vigilant about homegrown extremism.
“Disaffected youth can be drawn into all sorts of things,” Ms. Lynch said.
Defense attorney Robert Gottlieb said he disagreed with the verdict and would appeal. But he also said the trial showed that the U.S. court system is the best place to prosecute terror crimes.
“The world and our national government, including all our politicians, should take note that this is the way crimes should be decided, not in a military commission, not in a star chamber, but in America,” he said.
Medunjanin, who showed no visible reaction to the verdicts, afterward asked Mr. Gottlieb to “tell his family to be strong,” the lawyer said. The defendant’s mother and sister testified during the trial of terrifying late-night raids by federal agents before his arrest.
The defense had admitted that the Bosnian-born Medunjanin wanted to fight for the Taliban, but they insisted he never agreed to spread death and destruction in the city where his family put down roots.
Medunjanin, 27, went overseas to fulfill a “romantic version of jihad. … His plan and intent was to join the Taliban and stand up for what he believes in,” Mr. Gottlieb said in his closing. “That was his purpose.”
The government’s case was built on the testimony of four men: two other radicalized Muslim men from Queens who pleaded guilty in the subway plot; a British would-be shoe bomber; and a man originally from Long Island who gave al Qaeda pointers on how best to attack a Wal-Mart store.
Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, both former high school classmates of Medunjanin, told jurors that the scheme unfolded after the trio traveled to Pakistan in 2008 to avenge the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
While receiving terror training at outposts in the South Waziristan region of Pakistan, al Qaeda operatives encouraged the American recruits to return home for a suicide-bombing mission intended to spread panic and cripple the economy. Among the targets considered were New York Stock Exchange, Times Square and Grand Central Terminal, the men testified.
In a later meeting in New York, the plotters decided to strap on bombs and blow themselves up at rush hour on Manhattan subway lines because the transit system is “the heart of everything in New York City,” Zazi said.