WASHINGTON—The Justice Department today announced charges against five members of an al Qaeda plot to attack targets in the United States and United Kingdom. The charges reveal that the plot against New York’s subway system uncovered in September 2009 involving Colorado resident Najibullah Zazi was directed by senior al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan, and was also directly related to a scheme by al Qaeda plotters in Pakistan to use Western operatives to attack a target in the United Kingdom.
The superseding indictment, which was returned and unsealed today in the Eastern District of New York, charges the following defendants each with several terrorism violations: Adnan El Shukrijumah, also known as “Hamad;” Adis Medunjanin, also known as “Mohammad;” Abid Naseer; Tariq Ur Rehman; and a fifth defendant known as “Ahmad,” “Sohaib,” or “Zahid.” Each of the defendants faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
According to the indictment, court filings and plea proceedings in the case, the plot involving Zazi was organized by Saleh al-Somali, Rashid Rauf, and El Shukrijumah, who were then-leaders of al Qaeda’s “external operations” program dedicated to terrorist attacks in the United States and other Western countries.
Between September and December 2008, Saleh and El Shukrijumah recruited Zazi and Zazi’s co-conspirators, Zarein Ahmedzay, and Medunjanin, to conduct suicide bombings in New York City using improvised explosive devices made from supplies such as hydrogen peroxide, acetone, flour, and oil. According to the indictment and court filings, Saleh communicated with Zazi through “Ahmad,” an al Qaeda facilitator in Peshawar, Pakistan. In early September 2009, after Zazi constructed the detonator explosives for the attack, he e-mailed with “Ahmad” in Pakistan about the proper ingredients for the flour-based main charge explosive. Zazi pleaded guilty to his role in the New York subway plot on February 22, 2010; Ahmedzay similarly pleaded guilty on April 23, 2010.
The indictment adds formal charges against El Shukrijumah, a 34-year-old native of Saudi Arabia who served as one of the leaders of al Qaeda’s external operations program. According to the indictment, El Shukrijumah recruited Zazi, Ahmedzay, and Medunjanin to return to the United States and conduct terrorist attacks there. El Shukrijumah has been wanted by the FBI for several years and is the subject of a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest. He remains at large.
The investigation by authorities in the United States and United Kingdom has revealed that “Ahmad” was also communicating with Manchester-based, United Kingdom resident Naseer. Naseer, like Zazi, was in Peshawar, Pakistan in November 2008, according to the court filings.
After returning to the United Kingdom, Naseer sent messages back and forth to the same e-mail account that “Ahmad” was using to communicate with the American-based al Qaeda cell on behalf of Saleh, the indictment and court filings allege. In the messages, Naseer used coded language to refer to different types of explosives. At the culmination of the plot, in early April 2009, Naseer, again using coded language, told “Ahmad” that he was planning a large “wedding” for numerous guests between April 15 and 20, 2009, and that “Ahmad” should be ready. Notably, “Ahmad” and Zazi had agreed on a similar code to mean the attack was ready to be executed, and Zazi e-mailed Ahmad that “the marriage is ready” just before he left Colorado for New York in early September 2009.
On April 8, 2009, Naseer and Rehman were arrested in the United Kingdom on terrorism charges. In connection with the arrests, U.K. authorities conducted searches of the plotters’ homes, where they found large quantities of flour and oil, as well as surveillance photographs of public areas in Manchester and maps of Manchester’s city center posted on the wall, with one of the locations from the surveillance photographs highlighted. Naseer is currently in custody in the United Kingdom. The United States intends to seek his extradition to face trial. Rehman is not in custody.
The superseding indictment also adds new charges to the pending indictment against Medunjanin. Specifically, the indictment charges that, in furtherance of the New York plot, and, after Zazi was already in custody, Medunjanin attempted to crash his car into another car on the Whitestone Expressway in Queens, N.Y. as a last attempt to carry out a suicide attack on American soil. Just before crashing his car, Medunjanin called 911 to identify himself and announce his intentions. Medunjanin remains in federal custody in the United States. No trial date has been set.
Medunjanin is charged with conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction; conspiring to commit murder abroad; providing and conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda; receiving military training from al Qaeda; committing and attempting to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries; and using firearms and a destructive device in relation to the above offenses.
Shukrijumah and “Ahmad” are each charged with providing and conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda; conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction; assisting the receipt of military training; committing and attempting to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries; and using firearms in relation to the same offenses. “Ahmad” is also charged together with Naseer and Rehman with providing and conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda and conspiracy to use a destructive device in relation to the U.K. branch of the plot.
“These charges underscore the global nature of the terrorist threat we face. They further reflect the effectiveness of mutual investigations and cooperation with our global partners in disrupting terrorism threats. I thank our counterparts in the United Kingdom for their assistance in this investigation,” said David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.
“As today’s charges demonstrate, we will not rest in our pursuit of those responsible for plotting terrorist attacks,” said Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Ms. Lynch also expressed her gratitude to the law enforcement personnel, both domestic and foreign, who took part in the investigation.
FBI Executive Assistant Director Sean Joyce, National Security Branch said, “The threat posed by terrorists around the world is a threat to security and a threat to the rule of law. The transnational nature of this conspiracy, and its connection to plots targeted outside the U.S. underscores the importance of international coordination and collaboration to do everything we can to ensure public safety.”
“The charges announced today illustrate the coordinated and persistent attempts by our adversaries to harm American citizens,” said FBI New York Acting Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos. “FBI personnel around the world are dedicated to working with our international law enforcement partners to uncover and thwart attacks.”
The investigation is being conducted by the New York, Denver, and Miami FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces, as well as the Washington Field Office of the FBI. The North West Counter Terrorism Unit and Greater Manchester Police Department have also provided significant assistance.
The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, with assistance from the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida has also provided assistance in the investigation.
The public is reminded that an indictment contains mere allegations and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.