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5 charged as al Qaeda plotters in US and UK

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Cells in the U.S. and England used similar codes, Justice Department says
  • The suspects were directed by senior al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, authorities charge
  • Some of the suspects are in custody already
  • The alleged plotters would face life in prison if convicted

Washington -- The Justice Department announced charges Wednesday against five people who prosecutors say are members of an al Qaeda plot to stage attacks in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The charges link a plot against targets in New York to a scheme to attack a target in the United Kingdom, and say both were directed by "senior al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan."

The cells used similar codes to communicate with their handler, both saying they were planning a "wedding" to mean an attack.

"We will have many guests attending the party," one of the suspects in England told his al Qaeda contact in an e-mail reproduced in a British ruling in May.

That suspect, Abid Naseer, was arrested in England on Wednesday, London's Metropolitan Police said.

Naseer has been in and out of British courts for over a year. An immigration tribunal found in May that he was an al Qaeda operative, but said he could not be deported to Pakistan because of the risk he would be tortured there.

He has never been charged in criminal court in Britain.

The other suspects charged Wednesday are Adnan El Shukrijumah, Adis Medunjanin, Tariq Ur Rehman; and a fifth defendant known as "Ahmad," "Sohaib" or "Zahid," the Justice Department said.

El Shukrijumah and "Ahmad" are accused of being senior al Qaeda figures who directed the others in their terror plots.

Rehman is associated with Naseer in England, the department says, while Medunjanin is linked to a New York subway bomb plot involving two other suspects, Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay. The other two have already pleaded guilty and are cooperating with authorities.

Medunjanin was already in custody in connection with the New York subway plot, but the new indictment Wednesday adds another charge against him -- trying to crash his car into another one as a last-ditch effort to carry out a suicide attack after other plotters were arrested.

His lawyer shrugged off the Justice Department's latest action.

"Nothing in the new indictment is a surprise and Mr. Medunjanin fully intends to let a jury decide the issues in this case," Robert Gottlieb told CNN.

El Shukrijumah and another senior al Qaeda leader recruited Medunjanin and others to be suicide bombers, the federal indictment charges. Zazi communicated with "Ahmad" about the New York subway plot, authorities claim.

"Ahmad" in turn was communicating with Naseer and Rehman about a terror plot in Britain, they allege.

El Shukrijumah and Rehman are not in custody.

The FBI has been trying to get its hands on El Shukrijumah, a 34-year-old Saudi, for years, the Justice Department said. There is a $5 million reward on his head.

Each of the defendants would face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

CNN's Pam Benson, Susan Candiotti and Eden Pontz contributed to this report.