Video: Suspect in NY terrorism plot pleads guilty

  1. Closed captioning of: Suspect in NY terrorism plot pleads guilty

    >>> news" begins now.

    >>> good evening, earlier today here, there were divers in these waters. part of the elaborate security for these winter games , part of the post-911 era for all of us. tonight we begin with what many people in law enforcement say could have been the single biggest attack since 9/11 had it not been foiled. you may remember the case, a man was arrested in denver , who admitted today he trained with al qaeda , to stage attacks on the new york city subway system and was said to be days away from doing it. it's where we begin tonight with pete williams .

    >> reporter: the fbi says in a najibullah zazi took al qaeda training overseas then returned with a mission. he pleaded guilty to terrorism charges, admitting he planned to blow up a homemade bomb on a new york subway train last fall. he told a federal judge he wanted to carry out a martyr dom operation, i would be willing to sacrifice myself.

    >> this attack was real, it would have been deadly.

    >> reporter: zazi told the court he went overseas to join the taliban, but al qaeda talked him into taking explosives training in preparation for a suicide mission . after moving to denver to drive an airport shuttle bus , he began buying raw chemicals from beauty supply stores. he managed to make enough high explosives for a detonator and drove last september to new york where he planned to enlist two friends to aid him in attacking the subway. zazi said when he realized the fbi was on his trail, he threw the explosive as way and returned to denver . he's provided valuable intelligence on the plot, proof that terror cases can be successfully handled in federal court .

    >> we are at war against a very dangerous and intelligent and adaptable enemy. we must use every weapon available to us in order to win that war.

    >> reporter: zazi could get life in prison , when he's sentenced in june. brian?

    >> pete williams at the justice department starting us off tonight,

updated 2/22/2010 3:50:06 PM ET 2010-02-22T20:50:06

A former Denver airport shuttle driver admitted Monday to a plot to bomb the New York City subways, saying he was recruited by al-Qaida in Pakistan for a "martyrdom plan" against the United States.

"I would sacrifice myself to bring attention to what the U.S. military was doing to civilians in Afghanistan," Najibullah Zazi, 25, told a federal judge in a Brooklyn courtroom.

The Afghan native pleaded guilty to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country and providing material support for a terrorist organization. He faces a life prison sentence without parole at a sentencing in June.

Zazi said he went to Pakistan in 2008 to join the Taliban and fight against the U.S. military but was recruited by the terrorist network and went into a training camp.

He admitted building homemade explosives with beauty supplies purchased in the Denver suburbs and cooked up in a Colorado hotel room, then driving them cross-country to New York City just before the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Zazi told authorities he disposed of the explosives once arriving in New York.

No specific target
He said the terrorism plot was aimed at the city subway system but wouldn't name a specific target when asked by U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie.

Zazi was arrested in the fall after arousing authorities' suspicions by driving cross-country from Denver to New York around the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that the jailed Zazi recently volunteered information about the bomb plot during a meeting with his attorney and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn. The sit-down, known as a proffer session, typically signals that a defendant has begun cooperating in a bid for a plea deal.

One of the people familiar with the Zazi case told the AP that Zazi decided to offer the information after being warned that his mother could face criminal immigration charges. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is in progress.

Zazi's attorney, William Stampur, would only say after the hearing Monday: "The plea speaks for itself."

The cooperation by Zazi suggests prosecutors hope to expand the case and bring charges against other suspects in his case and possibly other terrorism probes. At the time of Zazi's arrest, Attorney General Eric Holder called the case the most serious terrorism threat since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Amid the debate over whether alleged al-Qaida and other terrorism suspects should be tried in civilian courts, federal prosecutors have sought to demonstrate that they can persuade suspects like Zazi to cooperate and provide more reliable information without coercion.

Father back home
Zazi's father was charged earlier this month with trying to get rid of chemicals and other evidence. But it appears he was cut a break: After initially demanding that he be jailed in Brooklyn without bail, prosecutors agreed to a deal on Feb. 17 releasing him on $50,000 bond and allowing him to return to his home in suburban Denver.

By contrast, bond for a Queens imam charged with lying to the FBI about phone contact with Zazi when Zazi was in New York was set at $1.5 million. A friend of Zazi, New York cab driver Zarein Ahemdzay, was jailed without bail on a similar lying charge.

Another one of the people said that Zazi told prosecutors that he made roughly two pounds of a powerful and highly unstable explosive called triacetone triperoxide, or TATP.

Court documents indicate that Zazi and others bought acetone — nail polish remover — and other ingredients that can be used to make TATP. The same explosive was used by would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid in 2001 and the terrorists who carried out the London bombings in 2005 that killed 52 people.

In those instances, TATP was not the main charge; it was the detonator. The 1.5 grams in Reid's shoe was supposed to help detonate the plastic explosives aboard a jetliner, and it was used to set off a mixture of black pepper and hydrogen peroxide in London.

Experts have said the TATP in the Zazi case was most likely going to be just the detonator.

Authorities say Ahmedzay and another New Yorker charged in the case, Adis Medunjanin, traveled to Pakistan with Zazi in 2008. Medunjanin has pleaded not guilty to charges he conspired to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and remains jailed.

The three men, former high school classmates in Queens, are scheduled to appear in federal court in Brooklyn on Feb. 25.

Officials earlier confirmed reports week that Zazi's uncle had been arraigned on a felony count in secret — a sign that he also could be cooperating.

NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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