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Flushing HS grad on trial in subway terror plot

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Three former Flushing High School students were in Brooklyn federal court this week testifying about an overseas trip to Pakistan that led to terrorism charges against the trio for allegedly plotting to bomb New York City subways.

Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay both pleaded guilty in 2010 to the planned subway attack during rush hour, and the two now are cooperating with federal investigators in the trial of the third former Flushing High student, Adis Medunjanin.

Prosecutors allege Medunjanin, 28, is also guilty of hatching the attack in the wake of a trip to Pakistan the three men took in 2008. But Robert Gottlieb, a defense lawyer for Medunjanin, contends the two men already behind bars devised the scheme while excluding his client.

“Normally Adis was the type of person to assert himself as a leader,” Gottlieb said to Ahmedzay, who took the stand, insinuating that his client would have taken the lead role if he wanted to. “But he did not try to assert himself as a leader, did he?”

Medunjanin, who was born in Bosnia, was charged with conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiring to commit murder in a foreign country, and providing material support to and receiving military training from al Qaeda. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Medunjanin largely kept his gaze trained on the floor of the court room Tuesday morning as U.S. District Judge John Gleeson calmly observed the cross examination of Ahmedzay.

Gottlieb sought to portray his client as on outsider to the ploy and peppered Ahmedzay with questions about the collusion between him and Zazi that he maintained occurred without Medunjanin’s participation.

Back in August 2008, the three men took a flight to Peshawar, Pakistan, in hopes of joining up with the Taliban, according to Ahmedzay’s testimony.

When the three men could not cross the border into Afghanistan, they instead fell in with members of al-Qaeda, who took them to a training camp where they fired weapons, studied the Koran and cooked meals for about a week, Ahmedzay testified.

Gottlieb sought to portray the camp as a watered-down version of what the men were expecting, with only one session at the firing range, no physical tests of endurance and plenty of sleep for the three men, who were the only recruits at the compound.

Leaders there convinced the men to return to America and carry out an attack in New York City, a scenario to which the trio gradually warmed, according to Ahmedzay, although tensions grew while on the trip.

Zazi had berated Medunjanin while in Pakistan for not eating the traditional way, not praying correctly and refusing to drink out of clay cups, Gottlieb said. He portrayed the arguments between Zazi and Medunjanin as fissures that eventually grew when all three returned to America at different times — Medunjanin and Ahmedzay to Queens and Zazi to Colorado.

Ahmedzay testified about running into Medunjanin at Queens College and having a discussion with him in Kissena Park, but Gottlieb contended that it was Ahmedzay who was in charge of scouting out locations while driving his taxi around the city, and Zazi who was in charge of assembling the bombs after he took an explosives training course after parting ways with the others in Pakistan.

“By the time you came back to the United States, you and Najib intentionally kept Adis away from any plans,” Gottlieb said before Ahmedzay, clad in khaki prison garb and sporting a long beard, agreed.

But prosecutors Monday argued that Medunjanin help radicalize Zazi and Ahmedzay in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, and after returning from Pakistan the three men discussed the plot together and ultimately were just days away from carrying out their planned attacks.

A detective assigned to the NYPD and Federal Bureau of Investigation’s joint terrorist task force testified about his team trailing Zazi’s vehicle through Flushing on the day he poured bomb-making materials down a toilet at a Flushing mosque.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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