* Two co-conspirators to be sentenced in December and May
* Trio had traveled to Pakistan to contact al Qaeda
(Adds details from hearing, comment)
By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK, Nov 16 A Bosnian-born U.S. citizen was
sentenced to life in prison on Friday for his role in planning a
suicide bomb attack on New York City subways in 2009 at the
behest of senior al Qaeda operatives.
Adis Medunjanin, 28, was convicted in May by a federal jury
in Brooklyn on nine counts including conspiracy to use weapons
of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism
and providing material support to al Qaeda.
Prosecutors had urged U.S. District Judge John Gleeson to
give Medunjanin the maximum penalty of life in prison, saying in
a pre-sentencing court filing that he "committed a host of
heinous crimes aimed at killing and maiming his fellow American
citizens in order to alter and take revenge for American foreign
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, planned to carry out
what U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called "one of the most
serious terrorist threats" to the United States since the Sept.
During the sentencing on Friday, a lawyer for Medunjanin,
Robert Gottlieb, described him as a bright young man with a
loving family who had fled to the U.S. from Bosnia when he was a
child. Members of his extended family sat quietly in the back of
the courtroom, some of them wiping away tears.
When asked if he would like to make a statement, Medunjanin,
recited several Koran verses in Arabic. He then delivered a
speech about the plight of Muslims and the poor across the
world, and denied having anything to do with the subway plot.
Gleeson said it was difficult to believe that three men who
went to high school in Queens, New York, could become pawns in
an al Qaeda plot.
"This was not a fringe character in our society," he said.
During Medunjanin's trial, prosecutors described how the
three made a plan to travel overseas with the intent of joining
up with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. They made it to
Pakistan, where they were introduced to an al Qaeda facilitator.
That facilitator took them to meet with senior al Qaeda
operatives, who provided them with military training and
persuaded them to return to the United States to carry out an
attack in New York City.
After their return, the three met to discuss their plans for
a suicide attack, and settled on a target: New York City
subways. Zazi began to assemble explosive devices at his
family's home in Colorado, and drove to New York City with the
materials in September 2009, prosecutors said. The plan was
aborted when Zazi and Ahmedzay became suspicious that they were
After federal agents searched Medunjanin's home in January
2010, Medunjanin got into his car and sped erratically across
the Whitestone Expressway in Queens, crashing his car into
another vehicle in what prosecutors described as a last-ditch
attempt to fulfill his suicide mission.
"Adis Medunjanin sought martyrdom for himself and death for
innocent New Yorkers as part of al Qaeda's plan to spread terror
within our shores," U.S. attorney Loretta Lynch said in a
Both Zazi and Ahmedzay pleaded guilty and testified against
Medunjanin during his trial. Zazi, 27, is scheduled to be
sentenced on Dec. 14, and Ahmedzay, also 27, will be sentenced
on May 10.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)