Subway bomb plotter Najibullah Zazi testified Wednesday that he was just "five, six days" away from a suicide attack in "the heart" of New York City in 2009 that would have killed women and children, but is now ready to turn over a new leaf if he gets leniency for becoming an informant.
"I hope for a second chance," said Zazi, testifying in Brooklyn federal court at the terrorism trial of accused accomplice Adis Medunjanin. "I believe my crimes are very bad. If God gives me another chance I would appreciate it, and I would be a very good human being."
Earlier, Zazi testified that a top al-Qaida leader persuaded him that a strike at an economic artery of the city would be the best way to get "revenge" for civilian deaths in Afghanistan and a gang rape by U.S. soldiers in Iraq -- and to send a message to President Barack Obama.
Most-wanted-list al-Qaida operative Adnan Shukrajumah, known by the alias "Hamad," told Zazi and Queens schoolmates Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay, who had traveled together to a training camp in Pakistan, that simply joining the Taliban would be pointless.
"He said that as a battlefield soldier you're just adding an extra number to the ranks, and don't have any impact if you die or are killed," Zazi testified. "But if you do an explosive action it would be the end of the U.S. military over there, plus the revenge."
Zazi and Ahmedzay both pleaded guilty in the plot. Medunjanin, 28, a former Manhattan doorman, faces up to life in prison. He has said he never agreed to join in the subway attack, which authorities say was one of the closest domestic terrorism calls since Sept. 11, 2001.
In his second day on the witness stand, Zazi, 27, provided new details of his recruitment, his bombmaking in a hotel kitchenette in Colorado and his cross-country drive to New York with a jar of homemade acetone peroxide explosive and Christmas lights to detonate suicide vests.
Zazi said that Shukrajumah, meeting with the New York trio in late 2008, told the group to choose a target that would damage the economy -- suggesting a Walmart -- and urged them to try to put together a plan quickly, before President George Bush left office in January 2009.
"He was just trying to shake Obama," Zazi said. "Do what you have to do. Pull out your troops and leave us alone."
But the plot, Zazi testified, didn't come together until the fall of 2010. Relying on nine pages of detailed notes he kept from a bombmaking course in Pakistan, he cooked an explosive powder for the detonator and successfully tested it in an empty lot in Colorado, he said.
Although he was still having problems with the formula for the "main charge," Zazi emailed Ahmedzay -- "I fixed the virus in the computer, and it worked" -- and headed for New York, he testified.
But when he was stopped and searched on the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 10, and later tailed in Queens, he said, he knew the game was up. "We are done," he told Ahmedzay.