Would-be subway suicide bomber Najibullah Zazi speaks

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Bitkower questions foiled suicide bomber Najibullah Zazi in the trial of Adis Meunjanin, in Brooklyn federal court, April 18, 2012. Jane Rosenberg

NEW YORK (CBS) - In the months before he planned to detonate backpack bombs on the nation's busiest mass transit system, Najibullah Zazi, taped a martyrdom video at an al Qaeda camp in Pakistan.

Zazi, testifying in the federal trial of one of his alleged accomplices, told a jury Wednesday that his bomb-making instructor asked him to address America as he spoke his last will and testament into a video camera.

"This is the payback for the atrocities that you do," Zazi recalled himself saying. Payback for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Zazi explained.

Zazi, 26, was born to Afghan parents, grew up in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, moved to Queens, N.Y., as a teen and became a permanent U.S. resident. He is the admitted ringleader of what authorities consider one of the most serious terrorism plots on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001.

He pled guilty in February 2010 to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit murder abroad, and of providing material support to al Qaeda.

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Zazi spent a second day on the stand as a prosecution witness against Adis Medunjanin, 27, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Bosnia, who is accused of the same crimes and faces a potential sentence of life in prison, if convicted.

A third conspirator, Zarein Ahmedzay, 27, an Afghan immigrant who also pled guilty to a role in the plot two years ago, testified when the trial began Monday.

The three Muslim men attended the same high school and mosque in the Queens neighborhood of Flushing and became "very close friends," Zazi said. He dropped out in 11th grade and held various jobs including selling coffee from a street vending cart.

Other than his brief allocution during his February 2010 guilty plea, this was the first time Zazi, the central figure in the foiled plot, had described his travel, training and planning.

Zazi said he became radicalized by listening to audio recordings, provided by Medunjanin, of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born, jihad-promoting imam who migrated to Yemen before he was killed by a U.S. drone strike last year.

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"His views was that America is oppressing the Muslims," Zazi said of Medunjanin. "Muslims should fight Americans. That it is their duty to fight America and those who attack Islam and attack our Muslim lands."

The trio left for Pakistan in 2008 hoping to fight alongside the Taliban against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Zazi said. He credited the Taliban with bringing "peace and security" to Afghanistan after the chaotic post-Soviet occupation. Zaid said, "Taliban had nothing to do with 9-11."

Zazi, Medunjanin and Ahmedzay took warrior names - Zazi's was Salhuddin - and soon found themselves as recruits at an al Qaeda terrorist training camp in the Waziristan region of Pakistan. They learned how to fire pistols, AK-47 machine guns, bazookas and rocket-propelled grenades. Zazi said he learned how to make explosives with hydrogen peroxide and ghee oil.

Zazi said the trio encountered one of the most wanted al Qaeda fugitives in the world, Adnan Shukrijumah, whom they knew as "Hamad." He identified Shukrijumah's photograph in court. Shukrijumah, under indictment in the 2009 subway plot, is an English-speaking Saudi who once lived in Florida and is seen as a guiding hand in numerous plots on Western targets.

As inspiration, Zazi said, Shukrijumah played them videos of the July 2005 London transit bombings carried out by four suicide bombers who killed 52 commuters. "He said about it -- that this was a very big achievement, achievement through hitting United Kingdom economically" Zazi recalled. Shukrijumah asked them to conduct a martyrdom operation. Times Square and the New York Stock Exchange were among the targets discussed.

Before Zazi and his two friends returned to the U.S., Barack Obama has been elected president.

Their al Qaeda handlers said, "They need to send a message to the United States and Obama," Zazi testified. "Pull all your troops and leave us alone."

To avoid carrying an incriminating manual in his luggage, Zazi went to an Internet cafe in the border town of Peshawar, scanned his handwritten bomb-making notes, and emailed them to himself. He created Yahoo and Microsoft Hotmail accounts calling himself "zazimjhd." The "mjhd" was an abbreviation for "mujahidin," commonly thought of a "holy warrior," but which Zazi defined as "freedom fighter."

To increase their lethality, Zazi planned to tape metal ball bearings around his homemade explosives. "The ball bearings do the damage," Zazi said. "The ball bearings go like bullets." He would wear a "suicide jacket" that would hide the explosives, he said.

Upon return to the U.S., Zazi moved in with relatives outside Denver and took a job as an airport shuttle driver. Soon, he was using the white 16-passenger Ford van to store chemical ingredients for a homemade bomb that he acquired at hair salon supply warehouse, a Lowe's and a Wal-Mart.

During the summer of 2009, Zazi traveled three times between Colorado and New York and maintained contact with his conspirators, he testified. "We talked about if we are still into the plan," Zazi said of one meeting at their Queens mosque. "Zarein and Adis said 'yes.'"

Prosecutor David Bitkower asked, "All three said they were committed to the suicide operation?"

"Yes," Zazi said.

They sat under a tree in a park and discussed the timing of targets of the operation, Zazi said. They chose to strike in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ran from late August to late September in 2009. They would attack trains running through Manhattan during rush hour, Zazi and Ahmedzay said.

Back in Colorado, Zazi rented a hotel suite with a kitchen to begin building acetone peroxide detonators and tested them outside. In a coded message, he told Zarein Ahmedzay. "I fixed the wires in the computer, and it worked." He brewed enough detonator material for three bombs.

In early September, Zazi made a key misstep. He sent three emails seeking a bomb-making advice to an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan whose communications were being monitored by intelligence officials. He never received a reply.

For two days, Zazi drove from Denver to New York with bomb components in the trunk of his Hertz rental car.

"My purpose in coming to New York was to construct a martyrdom operation," Zazi testified. He arrived Sept. 10, 2009. The plan called for three backpack bombs to be carried into the New York City subway.

Counterterrorism investigators, tipped by the intercepted Zazi's emails, were waiting for him on the George Washington Bridge crossing from New Jersey into New York. Police stopped his car but let Zazi go, and followed him. Zazi suspected he was under surveillance.

"The police is after me," Zazi typed in an unsent text message, he said, he showed Medunjanin at their mosque. "We are done."

Zazi flew back to Denver, where he lied his way through three FBI interviews before he was arrested.

His guilty plea was part of a cooperation agreement with the government which has led to more than 30 debriefings with intelligence officials and his testimony in Medunjanin's trial. His cooperation could lead to the government recommending something less than the life sentence Zazi faces for his foiled plot.

  • Phil Hirschkorn

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