A Pakistani man was found guilty Wednesday in a failed al-Qaida bomb plot after a New York trial that featured spies in disguise, evidence from the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound and the defendant’s questioning of an admitted co-conspirator.
The jury convicted Abid Naseer in federal court in Brooklyn after deliberating since Tuesday morning. His court-appointed legal adviser said there would be an appeal but declined further comment.
Naseer, 28, was first arrested in 2009 in Great Britain on charges he was part of a terror cell plotting to blow up a shopping mall in Manchester, England. The charges were dropped after a British court found there wasn’t enough evidence, but U.S. prosecutors later named him in an indictment alleging a broader conspiracy that included a failed plot to attack the New York City subway.
After his rearrest and extradition to the United States in 2013, Naseer pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and providing support to al-Qaida.
He acted as his own lawyer, often referring to himself in the third person as he set about portraying himself as a moderate Muslim who was falsely accused. He was assisted by defense attorney James Neuman but largely spoke for himself and demonstrated a calm demeanor in court that never wavered, even when the guilty verdict was read.
“Abid is innocent,” Naseer said in closing arguments on Monday. “He is not a terrorist. He is not an al-Qaida operative.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Zainab Ahmed told jurors the arrest of Naseer and other members of his cell averted mass murder. The government alleged Naseer had received bomb-making instructions in Pakistan in 2008.
“If the defendant hadn’t been stopped, hundreds of innocent men, women and children wouldn’t be alive today,” Ahmed said.
Naseer’s self-representation created the spectacle of the defendant cross-examining an admitted terrorist. Five British Mi5 secret agents also testified wearing disguises — one wore a fake beard and thick black glasses — and the trial marked the first time documents recovered in the 2009 Navy SEAL raid against Osama bin Laden’s compound were used as trial evidence.
But most of the case hinged on email exchanges in 2009 between Naseer and a person described by prosecutors as an al-Qaida handler who was directing plots to attack civilians in Manchester, New York City and Copenhagen. Naseer insisted the emails consisted only of harmless banter about looking for a potential bride after going to England to take computer science classes.
Naseer “wanted to settle down,” he said in his closing. “Is there anything wrong with that?”
But the prosecutor accused Naseer of lying on the witness stand by claiming the women he wrote about courting were real. Ahmed said the women’s names actually were code for homemade bomb ingredients: Nadia stood for ammonium nitrate and Huma for hydrogen peroxide.
Ahmed cited emails from the al-Qaida contact asking Naseer, “How is your sweetie girlfriend . How is she? Are things getting closer to marriage?” When the defendant wrote back saying, “I wish you could be here for the party,” he was talking about the attack, she added.
She dismissed Naseer’s explanations as “blather.” ”This man wanted to drive a car bomb into a crowded shopping center and watch people die,” she said.
One prosecution witness, Najibullah Zazi, pleaded guilty in the subway plot as part of a cooperation agreement. Zazi testified that after receiving explosives training in Pakistan, he received instructions from the same al-Qaida contact as Naseer and was told to use “marriage” and “wedding” as code for attacks.
Another witness was an FBI legal attache who handled evidence found in the raid that left bin Laden dead, including letters written among top al-Qaida officials. One referred to sending “brothers” to New York and Britain and arrests made there — a passage prosecutors suggested was a reference to Naseer.
“This al-Qaeda plot was intended by the group’s leaders to send a message to the United States and its allies,” U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement on Wednesday. “Today’s verdict sends an even more powerful message in response: the United States will stop at nothing in order to hold those who plot to kill and maim on behalf of terrorist groups accountable for their grievous crimes.”
No sentencing date was set.
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Tom Hays