Nightly News   |  February 22, 2010

Suspect in NY terrorism plot pleads guilty

The man at the center of what the government considers one of the most serious terror plots since 9/11 pleaded guilty Monday to training with al-Qaida to stage attacks on the New York City subway system. NBC's Pete Williams reports.

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>>> 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,