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Major Achievements in the Courtroom: United States v. Zazi & Ahmedzay

by Loretta Lynch
Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York

Loretta Lynch, Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York
Loretta Lynch, Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York
On February 22, 2010, in the Eastern District of New York, Najibullah Zazi pled guilty to conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction against persons or property in the United States, conspiring to commit murder in a foreign country, and providing material support to al Qaeda. On April 23, 2010, Zarein Ahmedzay pled guilty to the same charges. Zazi and Ahmedzay face maximum statutory sentences of life in prison on the first two counts and an additional 15 years in prison on the third count.

The charges arose from Zazi’s and Ahmedzay’s travel to Pakistan to fight with the Taliban against United States troops and their plan to conduct al Qaeda sponsored suicide bombing attacks on the New York City subway system in Manhattan. The United States Attorney General described the plot as the most serious plot to attack the United States since September 11, 2001.

On August 28, 2008, Zazi and Ahmedzay traveled from Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey to Peshawar, Pakistan with the goal of joining the Taliban and fighting violent jihad against United States troops in Afghanistan. While in Pakistan, the men were recruited by, and received military training from, members of al Qaeda. After discussions with high-ranking al Qaeda personnel, Zazi and Ahmedzay agreed that they would not stay to fight in Afghanistan, but would instead return to the United States to conduct suicide attacks. Zazi received additional training from al Qaeda on how to construct improvised explosive devices. Zazi and Ahmedzay subsequently returned to the United States.

During the summer of 2009, the men met in New York City and agreed to conduct a coordinated suicide bombing attack in the New York City subway system during Ramadan in September 2009. Then, in late August 2009, Zazi initiated contact with the group’s primary al Qaeda contact, a facilitator who went by the name “Ahmad.” On September 6 and 7, 2009, Zazi wrote to inform Ahmad, in coded terms they had previously discussed in Pakistan, that the suicide operation was ready to proceed, and to seek the precise instructions for constructing one of the explosives Zazi had been taught to make during his training in Pakistan. By that time, Zazi had already constructed a sufficient quantity of detonator explosives to assemble multiple improvised explosive devices for the attacks.

On September 8, 2009, Zazi began driving to New York City with the detonator and the supplies necessary to build the explosive devices for the attacks. Zazi arrived in New York on the afternoon of September 10, 2009. Although the precise timing of the attacks had not been determined, the group’s ultimate goal was to detonate the bombs during suicide attacks in the New York City subway system on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, September 14-16, 2009. The plan was suspended after Zazi and Ahmedzay grew suspicious that they were being watched by law enforcement, a suspicion they later confirmed. Zazi, Ahmedzay and others who participated in, aided and abetted, or obstructed the investigation of the plot, were subsequently arrested.

To date, the Eastern District of New York has secured convictions against six individuals, including Zazi and Ahmedzay, in connection with this investigation.

Updated July 9, 2015