A federal jury in New York has found Adis Medunjanin, a Bosnian-born U.S. citizen, guilty on all nine terrorism counts in an abortive bombing plot in 2009. Prosecutors argued that Medunjanin, 28, was fully committed to the plot with two friends to detonate suicide bombs in crowded New York subways. Medunjanin’s defense lawyers said their client had renounced involvement.
The defense attorneys argued that Medunjanin wanted only to defend Muslims when he traveled to Pakistan in 2008 with former high school classmates Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, intending to fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The three ended up instead at an al-Qaida training camp where they were asked to carry out a bombing plot in the U.S..
Zazi and Ahmedzay, both of Afghan descent, pleaded guilty and took the stand against their friend in exchange for possible leniency in sentencing. They testified that Medunjanin suggested specific subway stations and proposed the attacks be timed for Ramadan, on September 11, 2009.
They said the three, who had immigrated to the U.S. as children, had become increasingly angry about civilian casualties in Afghanistan, as they listened to online lectures by radical Islamists. After their return from Pakistan, Zazi began assembling bomb-making materials with ingredients he bought from drug stores and hair salons.
The trial provided unusual glimpses of the workings of al-Qaida, when two other convicted terrorists who had also trained with al-Qaida gave testimony. Yet in a park outside the courthouse during the trial, New Yorkers were unconcerned. Several said they were not even aware the trial was taking place.
“I don’t have a fear and I don’t have an opinion about that,” said a woman walking her dog. “I just know if they’re doing this, there’s a reason.”
Terrorism experts say the plot was narrowly averted when law enforcement officials became suspicious of Zazi’s activities assembling bomb materials. Zazi and Ahmedzay aborted the plan on September 10 when they realized they were being watched, according to their testimony. Medunjanin was arrested four months later, after he called an emergency line saying, “We love death more than you love life,” and drove his car into another vehicle on a New York expressway.
William Bratton, formerly the head of police in New York and Los Angeles. said that “of the fourteen incidents that have been thwarted here in New York since 9/11, [this was] probably the most significant, because it really was very similar to what was carried out in London, the idea of taking backpacks or taking suicide vests onto subway trains in New York City. And it came very close to success.”
Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, said the case shows that terrorism trials are best conducted in public view, in civilian courts.
“I think the most important thing about this case was that it was tried, that it was tried without a lot of criticism from any of the participants,” she said. “Everybody agreed on the rules, on the procedures, on the safety concerns, on the evidentiary thresholds, and it was a case in which both the prosecution and the defense felt they were using their skills to try a case that fit within the federal courts."
Medunjanin, a former high school football player and college graduate whose family had fled Bosnia-Herzogovina when he was a child, did not testify at his trial. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.