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Denver man pleads guilty to al-Qaeda plot to blow up NYC subway

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  • Last September, federal agents arrested 25-year-old Afghan citizen and U.S. legal resident Najibullah Zazi, thereby foiling what terrorism analysts call the most advanced domestic terrorism plot by al-Qaeda since the first World Trade Center bombing attempt in 1993.

    Zazi, a former Denver airport shuttle driver and New York street vendor, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country and providing material support to a terrorist organization.   An al-Qaeda recruit, Zazi admits that his plan was to fulfill a “martyrdom operation” which involved detonating homemade bombs within the NYC subway system.   The attack, had it not been thwarted by federal agents, could have massacred city-goers on the scale of the 2004 Madrid bombings or the 2005 London bombings. In June, he will face life sentence without possibility of parole.

    Zazi was born in Afghanistan and moved to Pakistan at age 7.  He and his family were then granted American legal status and moved to the U.S. when Zazi was 14.   The family lived in Queens, NY, where Zazi attended Flushing High School.  Two of Zazi’s former high school classmates, Zarein Ahmedzay and Adis Medunjanin, have been linked to his NYC terror plot.

    Initially, Zazi traveled to Pakistan from August 2008 to January 2009 to join the Taliban.  During his five-month stay at a remote Pakistan training camp, he received weapons and explosives training to wage jihad in Afghanistan.  However, he was there recruited by al-Qaeda, who asked him instead to conduct a terrorism plot in the U.S.

    Having obtained a large quantity of hair dye and nail polish remover,  Zazi planned to use the the acetone and hydrogen peroxide contained in the products to build homemade explosive devices.   He had planned to implement the bombing between Sept. 14-16, 2009, soon after the 8-year anniversary 9/11.

    Zazi was apprehended on Sept. 10, 2009, while driving from Denver to New York.  FBI agents had been wary of Zazi’s activities following his trip to Pakistan, and thanks to the Bush Administration’s “Patriot Act,” carried out extensive investigations on Zazi’s communication activities, including his phone calls and digital fingerprints.

    While Zazi proudly states that his terror plot was intended as a backlash against U.S. military action in Afghanistan, some American analysts see this potential attack as further evidence that securing Aghanistan is vital to U.S. national security.

    As discussed an article of The New Republic, a center-left arts and politics magazine:

    Afghanistan and the areas of Pakistan that border it have always been the epicenter of the war on jihadist terrorism–and, at least for the foreseeable future, they will continue to be. Though it may be tempting to think otherwise, we cannot defeat Al Qaeda without securing Afghanistan.

    About the author:
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    Position: Staff Writer
    E-mail: merpug at stanford dot edu
    Class: 2012
    Major: English with Creative Writing focus, minor in Psychology
    Hometown: Poway, California
    Writing Interests: Features, including campus culture, student groups, and Stanford events
    Activities: Jewish Student Association, Stanford Israel Alliance, Stanford Flipside

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