- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 25, 2010

NEW YORK | The Associated Press and Newsday asked a judge to make public a sealed plea agreement between prosecutors and a man who said he plotted to bomb New York City subways in the days following the Sept. 11 anniversary.

A federal judge sealed prosecutors’ agreement with Najibullah Zazi, a 25-year-old former Colorado airport shuttle driver who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges this week. Zazi admitted hatching a plot to make homemade bombs and use them to launch a rush-hour attack.

Both Zazi’s attorneys and prosecutors asked for the agreement to be sealed, said Robert Nardoza, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn. That request was also sealed.

Mr. Nardoza declined further comment Wednesday. Zazi’s attorney, William Stampur, did not immediately return a message left Wednesday by the Associated Press.

In a letter to U.S. District Judge Raymond J. Dearie on Tuesday, Newsday reporter John Riley said a report that Zazi’s relatives had been threatened with prosecution to persuade Zazi to cooperate with investigators was among the reasons the plea agreement should be made public.

He said the documents may contain information on any pressure applied to Zazi.

“The court should not make itself complicit in keeping secret information that would allow the public to assess for itself the appropriateness of the tactics used and concessions made,” Mr. Riley’s letter said.

The AP joined Newsday’s request Wednesday and said in a letter that the documents have to be made public “absent findings that sealing is essential to protect some overriding interest, and even then any sealing order must be narrowly tailored in scope and time.”

Karen Kaiser, assistant general counsel for the AP, said, “The public is entitled to see the plea agreement and the motion to seal in this case, which involves a U.S. citizen who admits to having been recruited by al Qaeda to commit violent crimes in his own country.”

Judge Dearie on Tuesday set a deadline of Friday for lawyers to respond to the media outlets’ requests.

Zazi was accused of buying beauty supplies to make bombs. He said U.S. involvement in Afghanistan was the driving force behind his decision to conduct an al Qaeda-led operation.

Zazi admitted using notes taken at a Pakistan training camp to build homemade explosives, and bringing them last September to New York, where he was planning to detonate them. Police officers who stopped him for a routine traffic violation grew suspicious, allowing him to go free but keeping an eye on him.

Days later, authorities raided several Borough of Queens apartments, including a friend’s home where Zazi had stayed.

He faces a sentence of life in prison without parole at his sentencing in June.

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