NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal jury found a Bosnian-born U.S. citizen guilty on Tuesday of planning a coordinated suicide bomb attack on New York City subways in 2009 at the behest of senior al Qaeda operatives.
Adis Medunjanin, 28, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison following his conviction on all nine charges, including conspiring to carry out a suicide attack on American soil, receiving military training from al Qaeda and plotting to kill U.S. soldiers fighting in Afghanistan.
Medunjanin’s accused co-conspirator Najibullah Zazi was arrested in September 2009, just days before Medunjanin and a third member of the plot, Zarein Ahmedzay, were prepared to carry out what U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has called “one of the most serious terrorist threats” to the United States since the attacks of September 11, 2001.
As the verdict was read in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, Medunjanin looked over several times at his mother and sister, both of whom had testified on his behalf during the trial, and raised his hand in a reassuring gesture. Afterward his stoic mother and sobbing sister, who is a 30-year-old nurse, left the courtroom and declined to speak to the press.
Outside the court, Medunjanin’s attorney, Robert Gottlieb, indicated that he planned to appeal the verdict, citing “some serious legal issues” that he wanted to address.
He also said even though his client was convicted of all charges, the case spotlighted the importance of trying a case before a jury rather than in a military tribunal, like the ongoing case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
“The world and our national government should take note that this is the way crimes should be decided, whether or not someone is guilty — not in military tribunals, not in a star chamber, but in America.”
Sentencing was set for September 7.
Prosecutors during the trial had argued Medunjanin was “ready and willing to sacrifice himself to kill” at the command of al Qaeda, saying he committed to carrying out a suicide attack on American soil, a mission given to him by al Qaeda operatives he met in Pakistan.
“What he was willing to do was to strap a suicide bomb to himself, walk into a New York City subway and blow it up,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Berit Berger said in closing arguments last week.
Medunjanin, a U.S. citizen born in Bosnia and a resident of the New York borough of Queens, was accused as the third member of a plot to bomb the subways in 2009. His high school friends Ahmedzay and Zazi, both 27, both pleaded guilty to planning the attacks with him and are cooperating with the government, awaiting sentencing.
Gottlieb, the defense lawyer, said in his closing statement conceded that Medunjanin traveled to Pakistan in 2008 in an attempt to join the Taliban and seek vengeance for perceived wrongs against Muslims. But while Medunjanin was under the sway of al Qaeda propaganda, he never intended to follow through with his friends’ plan, Gottlieb told jurors.
“Adis’ intent was to fight and protect Muslims,” Gottlieb said. “That was the extent of his formulated intent and plan in his own mind.”
Jurors, who the judge allowed to remain anonymous for their safety, reached the verdict after starting deliberations on Monday.
Reporting by Jessica Dye and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Eric Walsh