Zarein Ahmedzay Pleads Guilty to Terror Violations in Connection with Al-Qaeda New York Subway Plot

The Justice Department announced that Zarein Ahmedzay, a U.S. citizen and resident of Queens, N.Y., pleaded guilty today in the Eastern District of New York to terrorism violations stemming from, among other activities, his role in an al-Qaeda plot to conduct coordinated suicide bombings on New York’s subway system in September 2009.

At a hearing this afternoon before Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven M. Gold, Ahmedzay, 25, pleaded guilty to the following violations: conspiracy to use a weapon of mass of destruction (explosive bombs) against persons or property in the United States; conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country; and providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, namely al-Qaeda. Ahmedzay faces a sentence of up to life in prison.

Ahmedzay was first indicted on Jan. 8, 2010, in the Eastern District of New York on charges of making false statements to the FBI about his travels to Pakistan and Afghanistan. On Feb. 25, 2010, he was charged in a superseding indictment in the Eastern District of New York with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction; conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country; providing material support to al-Qaeda; receiving military-type training from al-Qaeda; and making false statements.

"The facts disclosed today add chilling details to what we know was a deadly plot hatched by al-Qaeda leaders overseas to kill scores of Americans in the New York City subway system in September 2009," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "This plot, as well as others we have encountered, makes clear we face a continued threat from al-Qaeda and its affiliates overseas. With three guilty pleas already and the investigation continuing, this prosecution underscores the importance of using every tool we have available to both disrupt plots against our nation and hold suspected terrorists accountable."

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller said, "Ahmedzay’s plea makes clear that he betrayed his adopted country and its people by providing support to al-Qaeda and planning to bring deadly violence to New York. The FBI and our law enforcement and intelligence partners will continue to investigate this plot and to bring all necessary resources to bear to protect Americans from terrorist attacks."

As Ahmedzay admitted during today’s guilty plea allocution and as reflected in previous government filings and the guilty plea allocution of co-defendant Najibullah Zazi, Ahmedzay, Zazi and a third individual agreed to travel to Afghanistan to join the Taliban and fight against United States and allied forces. In furtherance of their plans, they flew from Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., to Peshawar, Pakistan at the end of August 2008. Ahmedzay and the third individual attempted to enter Afghanistan but were turned back at the border and returned to Peshawar.

Within a few days, Ahmedzay, Zazi and the third individual met with an al-Qaeda facilitator in Peshawar and agreed to travel for training in Waziristan. Upon arriving, they met with two al-Qaeda leaders, but did not learn their true identities. As the government represented during today’s guilty plea, the leaders were Saleh al-Somali, the head of international operations for al-Qaeda, and Rashid Rauf, a key al-Qaeda operative. The three Americans said that they wanted to fight in Afghanistan, but the al-Qaeda leaders explained that they would be more useful to al-Qaeda and the jihad if they returned to New York and conducted attacks there.

Ahmedzay and the others received training on several different kinds of weapons. During the training, al-Qaeda leaders continued to encourage them to return to the United States and conduct suicide operations. They agreed, and had further conversations with al-Qaeda about the timing of the attacks and possible target locations in Manhattan. Al-Qaeda leadership emphasized the need to hit well-known structures and maximize the number of casualties.

After the initial training, the three Americans left Waziristan. The plan was for Ahmedzay and Zazi to return to Waziristan a month later to receive explosives training from al-Qaeda. Ahmedzay later changed his mind about attending the training, and Zazi went by himself. Ahmedzay later reviewed Zazi’s bomb-making notes from the training. Ahmedzay and Zazi returned to New York, and Zazi moved to Denver.

Ahmedzay initially had reservations about going forward with the suicide bombing, but resolved to go forward with the plan. Zazi traveled to New York from Colorado and the three Americans met in Queens and agreed to carry out suicide bombings during the month of Ramadan, Aug. 22, 2009 to Sept. 20, 2009. They agreed that Zazi would prepare the explosives, that Zazi and Ahmedzay would assemble the devices in New York, and that all three would conduct suicide attacks. Ahmedzay later evaluated potential bombing targets in Manhattan.

Zazi traveled a second time to New York, and Ahmedzay and Zazi discussed the attack in further detail. By that time, Zazi had begun researching and experimenting with explosives in Colorado. Based on the amount of explosives Zazi anticipated he could produce by Ramadan, Zazi and Ahmedzay decided that they would conduct suicide attacks on subway trains rather than targeting a larger structure such as a building.

Zazi returned to Colorado and constructed the explosives for the detonator components of the bombs. In July and August 2009, Zazi purchased large quantities of components necessary to produce the explosive TATP [Triacetone Triperoxide] and twice checked into a hotel room near Denver, where bomb making residue was later found.

On Sept. 8, 2009, Zazi rented a car and drove from Denver to New York, taking with him the explosives and other materials necessary to build the bombs. Zazi arrived in New York City on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009. Zazi and Ahmedzay intended to obtain and assemble the remaining components of the bombs over the weekend and the three of them would conduct the attack on Manhattan subway lines on Sept. 14, Sept. 15, or Sept. 16, 2009. However, shortly after arriving in New York, they realized that law enforcement was investigating their activities. Ahmedzay and Zazi discarded the explosives and other bomb-making materials, and Zazi traveled back to Denver.

This case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado and the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. The investigation is being conducted by the New York and Denver FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which combined have investigators from more than 50 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.