Brooklyn Jurors Hear Closing Arguments in Jihadist’s Trial
By Larry Neumeister
CADMAN PLAZA EAST — A terrorism defendant went with two other men to Pakistan in August 2008 with plans to join the Taliban and either force the U.S. out of Afghanistan or die on the battlefield trying, a Brooklyn federal prosecutor said yesterday in closing arguments.
When they couldn't get into Afghanistan, they met an al-Qaida recruiter who connected them with al-Qaida operatives who convinced them to return to America to carry out a martyrdom operation, prosecutor Berit Berger told Brooklyn jurors at the trial of Adis Medunjanin.
Medunjanin has pleaded not guilty to charges that he became an al-Qaida operative who discussed bombing movie theaters, Grand Central Terminal, Times Square and the New York Stock Exchange before settling on the city's subways. The defense has argued that federal agents unfairly coerced Medunjanin into making incriminating statements after they intimidated his family.
The prosecution's case "brought to the surface the worst fears about our future ... A plot to bomb subways," but is not as clear-cut as the government claims, said defense lawyer Robert Gottlieb.
Prosecutors say Medunjanin traveled to Pakistan in 2008 with Najubullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay to join the Taliban but instead they were recruited by al-Qaida operatives for a suicide mission in the U.S. Both Zazi and Ahmedzay have pleaded guilty.
Gottlieb called his client and the two other men "immature, naïve and clueless" when they set out for Afghanistan to fulfill some "romantic version of jihad. ... His plan and intent was to join the Taliban and stand up for what he believes in. That was his purpose."
Zazi, who testified as a government witness at the trial, learned about explosives at an al-Qaida training camp in Pakistan. Berger showed the jury pictures of a rocket propelled grenade and a bazooka, saying the defendant won a special lottery to shoot a bazooka.
She said the men considered several targets, including Times Square, Grand Central Station, movie theaters, the New York Stock Exchange and the subways. Al-Qaida leaders told them that "if you can't make a bomb, make something smaller" because in other missions, "people have failed because they tried to do something big and ended up not doing anything," the prosecutor said.
Medunjanin returned to New York, where he studied and worked as a doorman in a Manhattan building, in September 2008 while the other two came back the following January.
Zarein returned to his family in Queens while Zazi went to Colorado.
Zarein testified that the three agreed the New York subways would be a good target.
Berger said Zazi assembled a bomb out of household products in a Colorado hotel room before driving across America, arriving in New York on Sept. 10, 2009. She said the men realized they were being followed by law enforcement so Zazi dumped his bomb ingredients into a mosque toilet and flew back to Colorado.
Berger said Medunjanin loved Osama bin Laden more than himself — a claim the defense contested.
The prosecutor said the defendant was so frustrated that he could not carry out his suicide mission with the others that he finally got in his car on Jan. 7, 2010, and decided to crash it and kill as many other motorists as he could. She said Medunjanin was speeding down the Whitestone Expressway at more than 90 mph when he wrecked his car.
"He was hoping to die and in the process to kill as many people as he could," she said.
She played for the jury a 911 call the defendant made from his cellphone as he drove. He could be heard shouting: "We love ... We love death!"
Berger said he didn't know that he was being followed by law enforcement officers when he wrecked his car, air bags protecting him so that he did not get a scratch.
"This is Terrorism 101," she said. "The goal of this conspiracy was to kill as many people as possible."
Adis Medunjanin in Brooklyn federal court.
April 26, 2012 - 4:02pm