Al Qaeda recruit gets life for N.Y. subway bomb plot

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A 34-year-old New York man who joined al Qaeda, then plotted and attempted to commit suicide terrorist attacks was sentenced Friday in federal court in New York to life in prison for multiple federal terrorism offenses.

Justice Department officials said Adis Medunjanin, a Queens, N.Y. resident, and his accomplices, were within days of executing a plot to conduct coordinated suicide bombings in the New York City subway terrorist attack by crashing his car on the Whitestone Expressway in an effort to kill himself and others.

U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch in New York and Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco, who heads the Justice Department’s National Security Division, announced the sentencing.

Evidence presented at trial showed that in August 2008, Medunjanin and his co-conspirators, Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, agreed to travel to Afghanistan to join the Taliban and kill United States military personnel abroad. Court documents show that within days, Medunjanin, Zazi and Ahmedzay met with an al Qaeda facilitator in Peshawar and agreed to travel to Waziristan for terrorist training. There, the records show, they met with al Qaeda leaders Saleh al-Somali, then the head of external operations, and Rashid Rauf, a high-ranking al Qaeda operative, who explained that the three would be more useful to al Qaeda and the jihad by returning to New York and conducting terrorist attacks.

The documents show that in Waziristan, Medunjanin, Zazi and Ahmedzay received al Qaeda training on how to use various types of high-powered weapons, including the AK-47 assault rifles, PK machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. During the training, al Qaeda leaders continued to encourage Medunjanin and his fellow plotters to return to the United States to conduct a “martyrdom” operation, and emphasized the need to hit well-known targets and maximize the number of casualties.

Medunjanin, Zazi and Ahmedzay agreed and, according to the documents, discussed the timing of the attacks and possible target locations in Manhattan, including the subway system, Grand Central Terminal, the New York Stock Exchange, Times Square and movie theaters.

Justice Department officials said that on their return to the United States, Medunjanin, Zazi and Ahmedzay met and agreed to carry out suicide bombings during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which fell in late August and September 2009. The records show that Zazi agreed to prepare the explosives, and all three agreed to conduct coordinated suicide bombings.

In July and August 2009, the documents show, Zazi purchased large quantities of the component chemicals necessary to produce the explosive TATP (Triacetone Triperoxide) and twice checked into a hotel room near Denver to mix the chemicals. Federal investigators later found bomb-making residue in the hotel room.

According to the documents, on Sept. 8, 2009, Zazi drove from Denver to New York, carrying operational detonator explosives and other materials necessary to build the suicide bombs. However, shortly after arriving in New York, he learned that law enforcement authorities were closing in on the plotters and in an unsuccessful effort to avoid detection, the men discarded the explosives and other bomb-making materials, and Zazi traveled back to Denver, where he was arrested on Sept. 19, 2009.

On May 1, a jury convicted Medunjanin of conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction; conspiring to commit murder of U.S. military personnel abroad; providing and conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda; receiving military training from al Qaeda; conspiring and attempting to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries; and using explosives in relation to these offenses.

To date, seven persons, including Medunjanin, Zazi and Ahmedzay, have been convicted in connection with the al Qaeda New York City bombing plot and related charges.

Adis Medunjanin sought martyrdom for himself and death for innocent New Yorkers as part of al Qaeda’s plan to spread terror within our shores. Instead, he will now spend the rest of his life where he belongs, behind bars,” said Ms. Lynch. “Justice demanded a sentence of life for this al-Qaeda operative, who was dedicated to mass murder and destruction in the New York City subways.

“Scores of innocent New Yorkers would have been killed or maimed had Medunjanin succeeded in his plot,” she said.

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