Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New Charges Link Qaeda Biggies to N.Y. Subway Plot

Marc Piscotty / Getty Images

Najibullah Zazi arrives at a Denver federal building on Sept. 17, 2009.

New charges filed by the Justice Department allege that three high-level Qaeda militants were involved in organizing a now-notorious plot by Afghan immigrant Najibullah Zazi and others to bomb New York City subways last September. The charges, part of a superseding indictment made public by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn on Wednesday, allege that masterminds of the plot included purported senior Qaeda operatives Saleh al-Somali, Rashid Rauf, and Adnan El-Shukrijumah, who are all described by the Justice Department as former leaders of Al Qaeda's "external operations" program. Both al-Somali and Rauf are believed to have been killed by missiles fired by CIA-operated drones. Shukrijumah, a former resident of Florida, is believed by U.S. authorities to be still at large.

The latest charges provide the strongest evidence yet that the subway-attack plot, to which Zazi and one codefendant have already pleaded guilty, was an operation conceived and directed by elements of what remains of the so-called core, or central leadership, of Al Qaeda, believed to be based mainly in Pakistan and still under the loose direction of Osama bin Laden and his chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. According to the new charges, between September and December 2008, Somali, viewed by U.S. intelligence as a senior Qaeda operations planner, and Shukrijumah, a Saudi native and former U.S. schoolteacher who for several years has had a U.S. price on his head, recruited Zazi and two New York–based co-conspirators in a plot to conduct a campaign of suicide attacks in New York City using homemade bombs. According to court documents, Saleh communicated with Zazi through a person prosecutors identify as "Ahmad," described as a Qaeda facilitator based in Peshawar, Pakistan. In early September 2009, shortly before Zazi was allegedly going to launch attacks against the New York subway, the feds say that he consulted Ahmad in Pakistan via e-mail to discuss the proper ingredients for his homemade bombs, which would be constructed using such household ingredients as hydrogen peroxide, acetone, flour, and oil.

The new indictment formally charges Shurkrijumah, who reportedly fled the U.S. before 9/11 but whose name has surfaced several times in connection with subsequent alleged terror plots, with having recruited Zazi and his two accused co-conspirators for possible attacks inside the U.S. The new indictment does not specify in any particular detail how Zazi and his cohorts might have interacted with the equally notorious Rauf and al-Somali. As we reported here, Somali allegedly was killed in Pakistan last December in a missile fired by a U.S.-operated drone. Rauf, whom investigators linked to multiple alleged terror plots, including a plan in 2006 to simultaneously attack several transatlantic airliners using bombs hidden in sports-drinks containers, reportedly was killed in a drone strike in late 2008, after being detained, and then escaping, from Pakistani authorities.

The new charges also allege that the Peshawar-based Qaeda contact known as Ahmad was involved in a plot to attack a target in Britain with a Manchester resident named Abid Naseer, who was arrested with an alleged U.K.-based co-conspirator in April 2009 on terrorism charges. Searches conducted by British authorities turned up large quantities of flour and oil, as well as surveillance photos of public places in Manchester, and Manchester city maps. According to the feds, Nasser exchanged e-mails with Ahmad via the same address that the Pakistan-based terror suspect was using to communicate with Zazi and his cohorts on behalf of al-Somali. The Justice Department says that the U.S. intends to seek Nasser's extradition to face charges here.

The feds say they have added new charges to an indictment pending against Adis Medunjanin, an alleged co-conspirator with Zazi in the New York subway plot who has pleaded not guilty. Medunjanin, who a senior law-enforcement official recently told Declassified may have been responsible for encouraging Zazi to become radicalized in the first place, is alleged in the new charges of attempting to crash his car into another vehicle on the Whitestone Expressway in Queens in one final attempt to carry out a suicide attack on U.S. soil. The feds say that just before crashing his car, Medunjanin called 911 to identify himself and announce his plan. He has pleaded not guilty to charges filed earlier and remains in federal custody, although no trial date for him has been set.

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