The second of three men accused of plotting with Al-Qaeda to carry out a series of rush-hour bomb attacks on New York City subways in September 2009 pleaded guilty on Friday, as prosecutors provided new details about the aborted terror mission.
The action leaves a single defendant, Adis Medunjanin, to stand trial on a five-count indictment.
All three defendants face up to life in prison.
According to federal prosecutors, the three men traveled to Pakistan in August 2008 and met with two Al-Qaeda leaders, Saleh Al-Somali, head of international operations for Al-Qaeda, and Rashid Rauf, described as a key Al-Qaeda operative.
The three Americans told the Al-Qaeda officials they wanted to fight in Afghanistan, but the leaders suggested they would be more useful to Al-Qaeda if they returned to New York to carry out suicide attacks, prosecutors said.
Al-Qaeda told them to maximize casualties
According to US officials, the men agreed to carry out the attacks. They said the Al-Qaeda leaders encouraged the men to strike well-known structures in New York City and to maximize the number of casualties.
“The facts disclosed today add chilling details to what we know was a deadly plot hatched by Al-Qaeda leaders overseas to kill scores of Americans in the New York City subway system,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement.
“Ahmedzay’s plea makes clear that he betrayed his adopted country and its people by providing support to Al-Qaeda and planning to bring deadly violence to New York,” said FBI Director Robert Mueller.
The three men allegedly received initial training on several weapons in 2008 in Pakistan’s Waziristan Province. Prosecutors said the plan was for Mr. Zazi and Mr. Ahmedzay to return to Waziristan a month later to receive explosives training. But Ahmedzay changed his mind. Zazi went alone, they said.
Upon returning to the US, Zazi moved to Colorado where he began researching and experimenting with explosives. Zazi allegedly fashioned detonator components for what were to become suicide subway bombs. All three men were to conduct separate attacks during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in 2009. The attacks were to take place on September 14, 15, or 16, officials say.
In July and August 2009, Zazi purchased large quantities of components that officials say were needed to produce the explosive TATP (Triacetone Triperoxide). He allegedly twice checked into a hotel near Denver, where federal agents later detected bomb making residue.
Bomb-making materials in a rented car
On September 8, 2009, roughly two weeks before the planned attacks, Zazi rented a car and drove from Denver to New York City carrying the bomb-making materials.
Shortly after Zazi arrived in New York, the men were tipped off that they were under surveillance by US law enforcement. Officials say Ahmedzay and Zazi threw away the explosives and components and Zazi returned to Denver.
Ahmedzay pleaded guilty to conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction (a bomb), conspiring to commit murder in a foreign country, and providing material support to Al-Qaeda.
“This plot, as well as others we have encountered, makes clear we face a continued threat from Al-Qaeda and its affiliates overseas,” Attorney General Holder said.
Holder has been criticized by some Republicans in Congress who object to his use of the civilian criminal justice system to prosecute suspected terrorists rather than turn them over to the military for detention, interrogation, and prosecution in a military commission.
The attorney general has stressed that both the military justice system and the civilian criminal justice system are tools that can play an important part in fighting terrorism.
“This prosecution underscores the importance of using every tool we have available to both disrupt plots against our nation and hold suspected terrorists accountable,” he said.