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Trial begins for father of NYC bomb plotter accused of misleading FBI

From Adam Reiss, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: A key witness says the defendant told him to lie to authorities
  • Opening statements in Mohammed Wali Zazi's trial are made in Brooklyn, New York
  • Son Najibullah Zazi has admitted to joining al Qaeda, plotting to bomb NYC subway stops
  • The father's lawyer calls it "a miscommunication;" a prosecutor says he lied
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New York (CNN) -- Jurors began hearing testimony Monday as to whether a former New York cab driver from Afghanistan intentionally misled police probing his son's admitted plot to bomb the city's subway system.

The trial of Mohammed Wali Zazi opened on Monday in a federal court in Brooklyn with prosecutors and defense attorneys offering drastically different accounts of his exchanges with investigators looking into charges against his son, Najibullah Zazi.

Mohammed Wali Zazi, 55, has pleaded not guilty to three counts of obstruction of justice. His attorney, Justine Harris, said in opening arguments that her client was totally unaware Najibullah Zazi was planning to blow up New York City subway stations with bombs planted in backpacks, which the son pled guilty to in February 2010.

"It's all a miscommunication, not a lie," Harris said. "He had no idea what was happening."

Harris argued that Mohammed Zazi called his son, asking, "What is going on? What have you done?"

The attorney said the father had lost his job as a New York City taxi driver and lost his home, all while his relatives have turned against each other in the past two years.

But prosecutor Andrew Goldsmith, in his opening statement, contended that the elder Zazi knew exactly what he was doing, as he misled investigators.

The assistant U.S. attorney told jurors that Zazi tried to cover up his son's tracks by destroying valuable evidence, lying to FBI agents about people he knew and tipping off other suspects.

"(Zazi) is not charged with being a terrorist," Goldsmith said. "But he lied, and that is a crime."

One of the prosecution's star witnesses Monday was a man identified as Amanullah Zazi who has admitted to helping Najibullah Zazi get terror training in northwest Pakistan's Waziristan region along the Afghan border. He has pled guilty to related charges and is now cooperating with the government.

The 24-year-old testified that Mohammed Wali Zazi told him to lie and say that the elder Zazi was his father, and that he had been adopted. The uncertain relationship between Amanullah and Mohammed Zazi, who are biological cousins, is central to the case.

Amanullah Zazi said he moved in with Mohammed Wali Zazi upon coming to the United States, where he saw the elder Zazi watching jihadist videos. He also testified that the defendant tipped him off that FBI agents were looking for him and three other men and told him to destroy chemicals that might be part of any investigation.

Years earlier, Najibullah Zazi admitted his role in a terrorist conspiracy, saying, "In spring 2008, I conspired with others to join the Taliban, to fight along with the Taliban against the United States. We were recruited to al Qaeda instead."

While at a terrorist training camp, Najibullah Zazi said he "had discussions with al Qaeda about targets including the New York City subway system." Those attacks were planned for September 2009.

Mohammed Zazi isn't the only relative caught up in the aftermath of the admitted bomb plotter's arrest.

Najibullah Zazi's uncle, Naqib Jaji, has pleaded guilty to his role in conspiring to destroy evidence in the case against his nephew. Jaji agreed to cooperate with the government as part of his guilty plea, according to federal court papers.