Abid Naseer terrorism trial heads to jury

Abid Naseer, second from left, in a file drawing from his arraignment. If convicted, Naseer faces life in prison.

Story highlights

  • Jury deliberations in the Abid Naseer terrorism case begin after two weeks of testimony
  • Naseer is accused of supporting al-Qaeda and conspiring to bomb a shopping center in England

New York (CNN)When prosecuting attorneys began their closing arguments in the terrorism trial of an accused al Qaeda operative on Monday morning, they spoke of blood.

"Blood. Mangled bodies and dead families," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Zainab Ahmad. "Abid Naseer was going to place a car bomb in a crowded ... shopping center and watch people die."
Naseer, 28, is accused of communicating with al Qaeda and conspiring to attack the Arndale shopping center in Manchester, England, in April 2009.
    Naseer has maintained throughout the two-week trial that he is innocent, repeatedly denying all charges and insisting that he was in the United Kingdom to find a wife, not to plan an attack.
    The case is now in the hands of the jury, who began deliberations Tuesday. Judge Raymond Dearie instructed the jury to "judge the facts and the facts alone."
    Naseer is charged with three criminal violations: providing material support to al Qaeda, conspiring to provide material support for al Qaeda, and conspiring to use a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence.
    Prosecutors accuse Naseer of using email addresses with female names to communicate with al Qaeda in planning the bomb attack. The "female-sounding" email addresses were created to attract less attention, prosecutors say.
    Naseer, a Pakistani national, was in the United Kingdom on a student visa at the time of his arrest. Prosecuting attorneys pointed to the fact that Naseer had dropped out of classes after only a week as further evidence of his guilt.
    Naseer had no intention of completing his studies because "that was never the plan," Ahmad said, arguing that Naseer applied for a student visa as a means of entering the country to carry out the attack.
    "If law enforcement hadn't stopped him, he would be the martyr in heaven he so wanted to be. If he had not been stopped, hundreds of men, women, and children would be dead," Ahmad said.
    The Manchester plot was allegedly part of a three-pronged plan that also included attacks on the New York City subway system and on a newsroom in Copenhagen. The New York plot originated with a man named Najibullah Zazi, who is believed to have corresponded with the same al Qaeda contact as Naseer. Zazi pleaded guilty to terrorism charges and was the first witness in Naseer's trial.
    Naseer's 2009 arrest in England was part of a massive sweep in connection with an alleged plot to carry out bomb attacks in Britain. He was extradited in January 2013.
    A number of British intelligence agents -- disguised with makeup and wearing wigs -- testified that they tracked Naseer in 2009 as he visited the Manchester mall that was to be attacked.

    Searching for a bride?

    Prosecutors also accuse Naseer of using "coded language" in his emails to update al Qaeda on his progress.
    Email records show that Naseer sent an email on April 3, 2009, to a man named Sohaib, who Naseer says he met randomly in an online chatroom. Records also show that Naseer used two email addresses to email Sohaib exclusively from public computers and used different email addresses on his personal computer for all other correspondence. The email address belonging to Sohaib has since been identified as one belonging to a member of al Qaeda.
    The April 3 email reads, in part, "We both parties have agreed to conduct the nikah after the 15th and before 20th of this month. I have confirmed the dates from them and they said you should be ready between those dates."
    "Nikah" refers to an Islamic marriage ceremony. Naseer was arrested in Manchester five days after sending the email.
    Prosecutors allege that the wedding ceremony Naseer mentions was coded language for an attack. The dates mentioned in the email, they argue, were not referring to a marriage, but rather Naseer signaling to al Qaeda when to expect the attack to happen.

    Naseer defends himself

    Naseer, who has been representing himself, denied all charges. He told jury members that prosecutors were only able to produce circumstantial evidence, with no witnesses offering direct information of Naseer's role in the alleged plot. They also did not offer any outright proof of any link to al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization, he said.
    "Did anyone come forward, take the stand, and say Abid Naseer is the one responsible?" Naseer asked the jury.
    "We all know the answer. It is a two-letter word: no," he said.
    Naseer argued that he dropped out of school because the courses, taught in English, were too difficult for him. A 2008 trip to Pakistan, during which prosecutors allege Naseer received al Qaeda training, was really a trip to visit his ailing mother, Naseer said.
    He said that he had no knowledge at the time that Sohaib was connected to al Qaeda in any way, and simply thought he was chatting with someone he met online. All correspondence mentioning multiple women and the planning of a marriage were genuine, he said.
    "[I was] young and a bit desperate and wanted to settle down," Naseer said, noting that there was nothing out of the ordinary about his search for a wife.
    Naseer spent the majority of his closing argument reading from transcripts from earlier testimony, highlighting pertinent quotes he felt supported his cause.
    "We're not here to speculate, we're here to prove facts," he said.
    Evidence in the trial included documents seized from a 2011 raid in Abottabad, Pakistan, in which Osama bin Laden was killed.
    "Striking America at home is of the highest and top importance and is the main way to reach what we want," one letter said. "The impact on Americans from a strike inside America cannot be compared with hitting them outside the country."
    Naseer is not mentioned by name in any of the seized documents. He says he "had no involvement in the activities mentioned."
    FBI Agent Alexander Otte, who oversaw the evidence collected in the raid, testified before the jury that he watched as military forces walked off a plane with bags of seized evidence and the body of Osama bin Laden.
    Other witnesses included multiple police officers and detectives from the Manchester and London police departments, forensic investigators, a linguistic specialist and an al Qaeda expert. Surveillance officers who observed Naseer for several weeks prior to his arrest also testified.
    The jury must reach a unanimous vote of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for a guilty verdict. If convicted, Naseer faces life in prison.