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Ahead of would-be subway bomber's sentencing, prosecutors tout his cooperation

Najibullah Zazi in 2009.

Najibullah Zazi in 2009. Credit: AP/Ed Andrieski

Najibullah Zazi, the leader of a thwarted al-Qaida plot to detonate suicide bombs in New York City’s subways a decade ago, should receive credit at his sentencing Thursday for providing “extraordinary” and risky cooperation in the war on terror, prosecutors say in a new filing in Brooklyn federal court.

Zazi and two friends received training from al-Qaida on a trip to Pakistan in 2008, and were arrested in 2009 after Zazi traveled to New York with bombmaking materials. After he pleaded guilty in 2010, prosecutors said, he testified at several trials and provided valuable intelligence.

“Over the past eight years, Zazi has provided extraordinary cooperation, meeting with the government more than 100 times, viewing hundreds of photographs, and providing information that assisted law enforcement officials in a number of different investigations," prosecutors wrote.

The 25-page, heavily redacted letter to U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie was dated Feb. 15 and filed publicly on Wednesday. Zazi faces up to life in prison for conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and to commit murder in a foreign country, and giving material support to al-Qaida.

Zazi, an Afghan who was brought up in Queens before moving to Colorado with his family, traveled to Pakistan and was recruited by al-Qaida with friends Zarein Ahmedzay and Adis Medunjanin, according to the government memo and Zazi’s court testimony.

Back in the United States, they plotted to attack the city’s busiest subway lines during rush hour. Zazi consulted by email with a handler in Pakistan about making the bomb, and drove to New York with components, but scuttled the plan after concluding they were under surveillance.

Zazi was eventually arrested in Colorado. After agreeing to cooperate, prosecutors said, he provided information that led to terrorism charges against “numerous individuals” and “unique insight” into al-Qaida and its members.

He testified publicly against  Medunjanin, as well as Abid Naseer, who headed a British al-Qaida cell that planned to detonate a bomb in Manchester, England, and helped develop a case against Muhanad al-Farekh, a Canadian student convicted of being an al-Qaida operative, the government said.

Prosecutors said Zazi also provided information that helped them convict his father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, of destroying evidence in Colorado of the bomb plot, and tried unsuccessfully to get his father — who was sentenced to 54 months in prison —– to plead guilty.

Medunjanin was sentenced to life in prison, but Ahmedzay — who, like Zazi, decided to plead guilty and cooperate — was rewarded with a 10-year sentence in December.

The government did not recommend a specific sentence for Zazi but said he continues to contribute to investigations on national security matters, and his work came “at great personal cost to himself and his family” including the possibility of retaliation.

“By aligning himself with the government against al-Qaeda, Zazi assumed such a risk,” prosecutors wrote.

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