By Connor Adams Sheets
Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty Monday to plotting with al-Qaeda associates to carry out a string of bombings in the New York City subway system within days of Sept. 11, 2009.
Zazi, 25, an Afghan immigrant who lived in Flushing for years, calmly admitted before Judge Raymond Dearie in federal court in Brooklyn that he participated in the plot after being recruited by al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan in the spring and summer of 2008.
Zazi pleaded guilty to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country and providing material support to al-Qaeda. He will face a maximum of two life sentences plus 15 years in prison as well as $750,000 in fines at his sentencing hearing June 25.
After Zazi described his scheme — federal prosecutors contend he had the help of former Flushing High School classmates Adis Medunjanin and Zasrein Ahmedzay — as a “martyrdom operation,” Dearie asked if that meant he had planned to carry out a suicide bombing.
“I have a different definition [than] that,” Zazi said. “To me it meant that I would sacrifice myself to bring attention to what the U.S. military is doing to civilians in Afghanistan, sacrifice my soul to save other souls.”
It was not revealed during the proceeding why Zazi chose to plead guilty, but Dearie sealed a 10-page document outlining the plea agreement. That combined with the fact that prosecutors offered the deal, suggested Zazi has been cooperating with authorities.
Zazi said he went to Peshawar, Pakistan, “with others” in 2008 to join the Taliban in order to fight against U.S. military and allied forces in Afghanistan, but when they arrived there he said they were instead recruited by al-Qaeda to carry out a bombing plot.
He returned to America after attending al-Qaeda training in the Middle East and moved to Denver until June 2009 when he said he purchased bomb-making materials. He then drove to New York with a detonator, bomb plans and the bomb-making materials, but when he got to the city Sept. 10 and discovered law enforcement officials were on his trail, he disposed of the materials and plans and returned to a suburb of Denver, where he was arrested Sept. 19.
The plot was not a precise one, as Zazi said he did not have a specific target or targets within the subway system and even the date was up in the air Sept. 10, although he planned to carry out the attacks the following week.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday that “there’s no doubt American lives were saved” by law enforcement’s efforts to stop the plot.
“With today’s guilty plea we’ve brought swift justice,” he said. “But we will not rest until everybody involved is held responsible.”
Zazi’s father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, who has pleaded not guilty to a charge of destroying evidence related to his son’s terror plot, was freed from custody last Thursday on $50,000 bail. He can return to his home in Denver and attend religious services, but he will be under electronic monitoring.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.