The three young men were high school friends from Queens, N.Y., seeking to avenge how Muslims have been treated by the United States. In 2008, prosecutors say, they traveled to Pakistan, where they were trained by al-Qaida militants who asked them to return to the U.S. as suicide bombers. They agreed.
Federal prosecutors say they planned three separate suicide attacks on the New York City subway system in September 2009, around the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. Before they could act, however, their plans were foiled by police and the FBI. Suspects Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Adis Medunjanin, 28, a U.S. citizen born in Bosnia. Medunjanin’s trial started Monday.
In opening arguments, Medunjanin’s lawyer said he backed out of the plot, which Attorney General Eric Holder has called one of the most serious threats to security since the 9/11 attacks.
Ahmedzay, a former yellow cab driver, told a Brooklyn jury that al-Qaida operatives encouraged them to "do as much damage as possible, but to be successful the attack need not be spectacular," the New York Daily News reported.
Ahmedzay testified that the three drove around Manhattan casing potential targets for a terrorist attack. They checked out Grand Central Terminal, Times Square and the New York Stock Exchange. Ultimately, they settled on the subway.
The men "were prepared to kill themselves and everyone else around them — men, women and children," said Assistant U.S. Attorney James Loonam. "These men came so close — within days of carrying out this attack."
In September 2009, Zazi was arrested after driving into Manhattan with a detonator and materials to build an explosive device. Medunjanin was arrested in early 2010 after he tried to crash his car – prosecutors called the crash a failed suicide attempt.
Zazi and Ahmedzay have not yet been sentenced. If convicted, Medunjanin faces up to life in prison.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
More content from msnbc.com and NBC News:
- Romney's hot-mic moment: I'll shrink federal agencies
- Tough for Zimmerman to get fair trail, defense attorney says
- Maryland: A dead snakehead is a good snakehead
- Illinois man drowns in pond following swan attack