Confessed bomb plotter takes stand in NYC subway terror trial

Prosecutors say Adis Medunjanin was trained by al Qaeda in Pakistan and planned to bomb the New York subway system.

Story highlights

  • Accused terrorist Adis Medunjanin's trial continues with a key witness
  • Prosecutors say he and two others were trained by al Qaeda in Pakistan
  • They planned to detonate explosives on New York subways, they add
  • A defense lawyer contends that "the government is just wrong"
A would-be terrorist, who previously confessed to planning a subway suicide bomb attack, described in court on Tuesday how he and two high school friends planned to wreak havoc in New York City.
Najibullah Zazi, the mastermind of the 2009 plot, testified Tuesday against alleged co-conspirator Adis Medunjanin, who is the sole member of trio on trial. The third man in the group, Zerein Ahmedzay, had earlier pleaded guilty in the plot.
Medunjanin, a Bosnian immigrant who traveled with the two friends to Pakistan where they allegedly sought terrorist training, is among those accused of devising the scheme.
"What makes this plot stand out is it's alleged it was an al Qaeda plot that went right to the top levels of the al Qaeda terrorist organization," said CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, who said U.S. law enforcement only caught on to the scheme "late in the day."
Zazi testified Tuesday that Medunjanin had provided him with audio recordings of terrorist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki promoting jihad.
He testified that he wanted to enlist in the Taliban "before they win and America leaves, I should go and be a part of it."
"My understanding was they wanted me to carry out a martyrdom operation," Zazi testified.
The three initially resisted, he said.
"We talked amongst ourselves, looked at each other and said no," only to later begin their planning.
During opening statements Monday, a federal prosecutor described Medunjanin as an "al Qaeda terrorist," an assertion the defense said was "just wrong."
Prosecutors allege Medunjanin and the two others eventually hatched a plan to rig backpacks with explosives and blow them up on New York subway stations.
Ahmedzay, an immigrant from Afghanistan, and Zazi, an immigrant from Pakistan, have already pleaded guilty to the same charges.
"In September of 2009, three men were prepared to strap bombs to their bodies and go into crowded subways," Assistant U.S. Attorney James Loonam told jurors in his opening statement Monday.
"These men were al Qaeda terrorists," Loonam claimed.
Angry at the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, the three went to Pakistan's tribal belt -- "the center of al Qaeda activity against the United States" -- to join the terrorist group, according to Loonam.
Once there, the federal prosecutor said, the men were given "special treatment" and "private training by al Qaeda" because of their coveted status as U.S. citizens.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Robert Gottlieb accused the prosecution of using incendiary rhetoric to inflame the jury.
"These are all words the government knows will scare you beyond belief and shake you to the core," Gottlieb said of terms such as "terrorist" and "al Qaeda."
"The truth is Adis Medunjanin is not a terrorist. ... In this case, the government is just wrong."
Later Monday, Ahmedzay took the stand and described how his former high school classmate Medunjanin turned him on to the teaching of al-Awlaki. The American-born Muslim cleric was targeted and killed in a September 2011 drone attack in Yemen.
Medunjanin's trial is expected to last three weeks.