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Bosnian immigrant gets life sentence in plot to blow up N.Y. subways

November 16, 2012|By Tina Susman
  • Adis Medunjanin was sentenced to life in prison in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Adis Medunjanin was sentenced to life in prison in federal court in Brooklyn,… (U.S. Attorney's office )

NEW YORK -- A Bosnian immigrant convicted of plotting to blow up New York subways and other targets was sentenced Friday to spend his life in prison, the first member of a three-man team of would-be jihadists to be punished in connection with a plan that collapsed shortly before the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Adis Medunjanin, 28, a naturalized U.S. citizen who attended high school in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, was convicted in federal court last May on terrorism charges that included conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit murder and providing material support to Al Qaeda.  

Prosecutors said he had teamed up with Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, Afghan immigrants from the same  neighborhood, and that the trio was days from exploding bombs in New York City when the plot was foiled.

At the time, U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. called it "one of the most serious terrorist threats" to the country since the 2001 attacks.

Zazi was the first to be arrested, on Sept. 19, 2009, months after federal agents had begun monitoring his movements. He pleaded guilty to terror charges in 2010, saying he was motivated by anger over U.S. military actions in Afghanistan. 

Medunjanin and Ahmedzay were not arrested until January 2010. Medunjanin tried to evade arrest by ramming his car into another vehicle in Queens as federal agents and police searched his apartment.  

Moments before the crash, prosecutors said, Medunjanin dialed 911 and shouted a jihadist slogan: "We love death more than you love your life."

During his trial, Medunjanin's attorneys said he was caught up in a "romantic" notion of joining the Taliban overseas, but they insisted that he never intended to cause harm in New York, where his family settled after fleeing the war in their homeland in the early 1990s. He was 10 years old at the time.

Prosecutors disagreed. They portrayed Medunjanin as having taken advantage of the United States’ educational system and its religious freedom to be a practicing Muslim. But then, they said, he "dedicated his life to joining a medievalist insurgency in Afghanistan, and to killing his fellow Americans serving their country overseas."

"He then returned to New York City with the intent to call attention to his noxious ideology by killing and maiming unnumbered everyday commuters,” U.S. Atty. Loretta E. Lynch wrote in a letter calling for life imprisonment.

All three men admitted to traveling to Pakistan and receiving training at an Al Qaeda camp there in 2008. In Pakistan, prosecutors said, they were advised by trainers that they would be of more use staging attacks on American soil than fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Zazi was accused of preparing the bombs to be used in New York, using products that included hydrogen peroxide purchased at a beauty supply store in a Denver suburb where he was living at the time. 

Medunjanin was the only one of the trio to go to trial. Zazi, who had initially pleaded not guilty, changed his plea and was a key prosecution witness in Medunjanin's trial. Ahmedzay also pleaded guilty and testified against Medunjanin. Both men said the trio, who had been high school classmates in Queens, were motivated by the preaching of radical Islamist cleric Anwar Awlaki.

Awlaki, who was born in the United States, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in September 2011.

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