Suspect questions man convicted in same al-Qaida conspiracy
NEW YORK (AP) — A terrorism suspect who’s defending himself against allegations he was a would-be bomber took on an unusual task Wednesday at his trial: cross-examining a convicted terrorist who prosecutors say was part of the same al-Qaida conspiracy.
For about an hour, Abid Naseer calmly peppered Najibulla Zazi with questions intended to distance himself from Zazi, who pleaded guilty in 2010 to plotting a failed suicide attack on New York City subways.
“Mr. Zazi, do you know the defendant who is asking these questions?” Naseer asked, referring to himself in the third person.
“I don’t remember your face,” Zazi responded.
The spectacle in federal court in Brooklyn came in a case in which the 28-year-old Pakistani chose to act as his own attorney. He has pleaded not guilty to charges that he plotted with others to bomb a shopping mall in Manchester, England — part of a broader al-Qaida conspiracy calling on other cells to attack civilians in New York and Denmark.
Naseer was extradited from Britain in 2013. If convicted, he faces a possible life sentence.
The government concedes the two, who are named in the same indictment, never met. Naseer was studying in England at the time of his arrest, and Zazi was a one-time Queens resident from Afghanistan.
But prosecutors claim they shared an anger toward the West so deep that they sought terror training in Pakistan and then took directions from the same al-Qaida handler once they left.
Zazi was called to the stand on Tuesday to testify as the government’s first witness under a cooperation agreement. He told jurors that his explosives trainer told him there were Europeans receiving the same instructions on how to make bombs out of household ingredients like flour, oil and light bulbs.
But on cross-examination, Zazi testified he never heard al-Qaida members he encountered in Pakistan mention that England was a target.
Asked by Naseer if the defendant’s name ever came up in the training camps, Zazi responded, “Not that I remember.”
Naseer also zeroed in on Zazi’s testimony that he used the words “marriage” or “wedding” in emails as code words for explosives. Prosecutors allege Naseer also used the names of women as references to bombs.
In his opening statement, Naseer claimed that he wrote about women only because he was pursuing a bride and was planning an actual wedding. Zazi testified on cross-examination that he never received instructions to use women’s names as codes.
Naseer also questioned how a trained terrorist like Zazi could create a secret email account using a New York City zip code that could tip off authorities. Looking at the account information in evidence, the high school dropout responded that sometimes he’s “not very intelligent.”