Last fall's plot to detonate homemade explosives on New York City subways was part of a plan that included bombing targets in Britain as well, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday.
What's more, according to a superseding indictment released Wednesday, authorities believe al-Qaida's core leadership was behind the plot.
The subway plot involved a Denver-area shuttle bus driver named Najibullah Zazi. He was arrested last fall and pleaded guilty to a roster of terrorism charges earlier this year. He told U.S. authorities that he got explosives training in an al-Qaida camp in Pakistan in 2008. He said he had been dispatched back to the U.S. — with several of his friends — and was told to blow up transportation targets.
When he was arrested, Attorney General Eric Holder called the plot the most serious leveled against the U.S. since the Sept. 11 attacks.
What's new is just how much more serious — and far-reaching — the plot is now presumed to be. The unsealed indictment revealed for the first time that the plot was always envisioned as involving attacks on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to New York, the plan was to use explosives on targets in Manchester, England, as well. The indictment doesn't say what kind of targets had been in the cross hairs.
"These charges underscore the global nature of the terrorist threat we face," said David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, in a written statement.
Zazi told authorities he traveled to Pakistan in 2008 with the intention of joining the Taliban. He wanted to fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan. While he was there, he told authorities he was recruited by al-Qaida. They offered to give him weapons and explosives training if he would return to the U.S. and attack here. Zazi agreed. (Two other men allegedly traveled to Pakistan with him. One of them, a high school classmate of Zazi's named Zarein Ahmedzay, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and providing material support to al-Qaida. The second, Adis Medunjanin, has pleaded not guilty and wants to stand trial.)
Another man had also traveled to Pakistan around the same time as Zazi. His name was Abid Naseer. He was a Manchester-based U.K. resident, who allegedly went to Peshawar, Pakistan, in November 2008 and actually trained in an al-Qaida camp there. He, too, had allegedly trained in explosives. British authorities raided his apartment in 2009 and found large quantities of flour and oil and surveillance photographs of public areas around Manchester. The indictment also said there were maps of the city posted up on the walls with locations of the various surveillance photos clearly marked.
Naseer also allegedly began sending messages back and forth to an e-mail account registered to a man named "Ahmad."
The indictment says that was the same e-mail account to which Zazi had been sending messages. Prosecutors say Ahmad was an al-Qaida facilitator meant to help the two men carry out their missions.
Certainly, there were other similarities between the two bombing plans.
Naseer and Zazi were using the same bomb-making materials for detonators and the same code language with their al-Qaida contact. Naseer allegedly told Ahmad that he was planning a "large wedding" for "numerous guests" and that Ahmad should be ready. Ahmad and Zazi, the indictment says, agreed on a similar code to mean the New York attack was ready to be executed.
Zazi e-mailed Ahmad and said "the marriage is ready" just before he left Colorado for New York in early September 2009. (Zazi told U.S. officials he had hoped to launch his attack on New York around the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.)
The new indictment also provided more detail on the direct connection between al-Qaida's senior leadership and the plots. NPR reported back in October 2009 that Najibullah Zazi had met with senior al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan. In particular, Zazi claimed to have been recruited by Saleh al-Somali and Rashif Rauf, two operations chiefs with al-Qaida in Pakistan. (Since then, both Somali and Rauf are believed to have been killed in U.S. drone attacks.)
The new indictment adds another name to the list of recruiters: Adnan Shukrijumah. He's been on the FBI's Most Wanted List for years and has had a $5 million bounty on his head for some time. He brings specialized skills to al-Qaida's core leadership. He is one of the few people in the group who really understand the U.S., having lived there for 15 years. He grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the 1980s and early 1990s and went to community college in Florida. His father was in charge of a mosque there. As a result, he speaks English well.
Shukrijumah and Ahmad were each charged with providing and conspiring to provided material support to al-Qaida, conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction, and various other terrorism charges.