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Trial Opens for Alleged New York Bomb Plotter

In this Jan. 9, 2010 courtroom file sketch, defendant Adis Medunjanin, right, accused of becoming an al-Qaida operative, sits with his defense attorney Robert Gottlieb at the federal courthouse in New York.

A Bosnian immigrant accused in a subway bombing terrorism plot has gone on trial in federal court in New York City. He faces life in prison if convicted on all nine counts, including conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction.

A federal jury in Brooklyn is hearing the terrorism case against 27-year-old Bosnian-born Adis Medunjanin, who allegedly conspired with two former high school friends to bomb New York subways in 2009.

Medunjanin is accused of nine counts of terrorism, including receiving bomb-making training in Pakistan with Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, both of whom have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with federal prosecutors.

The case opened Monday with a day of testimony from Ahmedzay, who described traveling to Pakistan with Medunjanin and Zazi intending to fight with the Taliban against American forces in Afghanistan. Once there, he said, they were taken instead to an al-Qaida training camp in northwestern Pakistan and urged to carry out a suicide mission in the United States. The men agreed, and after returning to the U.S., Zazi began assembling ingredients for the bombs, including nail polish remover and peroxide from beauty supply stores.

Ahmedzay testified they discussed potential targets with their al-Qaida handlers in Pakistan, including Times Square, the New York Stock Exchange, Grand Central Station and Pennsylvania Station, but did not settle on a definite one. The goal, he said, was to strike a crowded subway station during rush hour, to maximize civilian casualties.

Karen Greenberg, a terrorism expert with Fordham University Law School, said the case is different because it was not a sting operation set in motion by the government.

"You know, we've seen FBI sting after FBI sting, in a number of courtrooms, as opposed to plots that were interrupted or plots that actually happened or something that didn't involve the FBI, and that therefore did pose a danger to the United States," she said. "As you know, in the FBI sting cases, the FBI has control of the case, they often provide the weapons, so there's not really a worry of somebody getting hurt."

Medunjanin, whose family fled Bosnia-Herzegovina for the New York borough of Queens in the 1990s, was a devout Muslim, according to his former friend. His lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, said Medunjanin never intended to hurt anyone when he crashed his car into another vehicle on a New York City bridge just after calling a police emergency line to say that he "loved death more than you love your life."

Prosecutors termed that a jihadist slogan, but Gottlieb told the jury that Medunjanin meant only to kill himself, rather than be falsely branded as a Muslim terrorist.

Medunjanin's other confessed co-conspirator, Najibullah Zazi, is expected to take the stand Tuesday to testify against his former friend.