A federal court jury in Brooklyn Tuesday convicted Queens College graduate and former doorman Adis Medunjanin of plotting an al-Qaida-inspired suicide bomb attack on the New York City subways in 2009 with two former Flushing High School classmates.
Medunjanin, 28, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Bosnia, now faces a mandatory life sentence after the jury found him guilty of participating in a terror plot that authorities say came within days of exploding three bombs during rush hour and could have taken the lives of scores of commuters.
As the verdict was read, Medunjanin, a Muslim, turned his palms upward and appeared to pray. He later nodded stoically to his parents and sister in the gallery. His attorney said that with alleged accomplices Najibullah Zazi and Zerein Ahmedzay testifying against him and the trial held near the site of the Twin Towers, the outcome was expected.
"He's always been realistic," said defense lawyer Robert Gottlieb, who argued that Medunjanin never joined the plot. "He understood the environment in which this case was tried. He asked me to tell his family to be strong."
NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly called the conviction a "stark reminder" of terrorists' post-Sept. 11 desire to return to attack New York City, and Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said it highlighted the threat from radicalized U.S.-raised terrorists.
"Disaffected youth can be driven into a whole host of things," Lynch said. "It's a message to parents, to community leaders to make sure youth are not drifting away."
Zazi and Ahmedzay pleaded guilty in 2010. At the two-week trial, they testified that the three men went to Pakistan in 2008 to join the Taliban because of frustration over civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Both said the trio was recruited by al-Qaida, but admitted that Medunjanin returned home early and was less involved in the plot.
The anonymous jury, on only its second day of deliberations, found Medunjanin guilty on nine terrorism charges that included traveling overseas to kill U.S. soldiers, receiving weapons training from al-Qaida, and crashing his car on the Whitestone Expressway in an act of attempted jihad as the FBI closed in. He will be sentenced Sept. 7.
By relying on testimony from Zazi and Ahmedzay, prosecutors promised to bring their cooperation to the attention of a judge when they are sentenced. Lynch declined to comment on whether the subway bombers will get the same leniency as mob informants, who sometimes walk free despite murders. She said it would be up to a judge.
"We don't try to compare cooperators," she said.