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U.S. Charges Al-Qaeda Leader In NYC Subway Terror Plot

Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty in February of planning a suicide attack
WASHINGTON -- Five men, including a naturalized American citizen who is also a leader of Al-Qaeda, have been charged in the United States with plotting to attack the New York City subway system last summer.

The U.S. Justice Department announced the charges on July 7 and unsealed the indictment in federal court in Brooklyn, New York.

According to the unsealed indictment, the failed plot against New York's subway system -- which was first uncovered last September -- was also "directly related to a scheme by Al-Qaeda plotters in Pakistan to use Western operatives to attack a target in the United Kingdom."

The central figure in the U.S. plot is thought to be Afghan-born Najibullah Zazi, who is in U.S. custody and pleaded guilty in February of planning a suicide bomb attack on New York's mass transit system.

Under questioning, Zazi admitted to receiving bomb-making and weapons training from Al-Qaeda in Pakistan's Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan.

He told the judge that his plan was "to conduct [a] martyrdom operation in Manhattan" and that he was willing to sacrifice himself "to bring attention to what the U.S. military was doing to civilians in Afghanistan."

Charged in the new indictment is Adnan El Shukrijumah, also known as "Hamad," a U.S. citizen and native of Saudi Arabia whom U.S. authorities believe is a leader of Al-Qaeda's operations program. He has been sought by the FBI for seven years.

The indictment says Shukrijumah worked with another man, Saleh al-Somali, to plan Al-Qaeda attacks in the United States and the West. Authorities accuse the two men of communicating with leaders in Pakistan's tribal areas through an intermediary in Peshawar.

The indictment says the intermediary used the same email to send coded messages to Zazi and one of the men accused in plotting a terrorist attack in Manchester, England, Abid Naseer, who is also charged.

The intermediary, who was identified only as "Ahmad," "Sohaib," or "Zahid," was also indicted.

Also charged are Adis Medunjanin, also known as "Mohammad," a U.S. citizen of Bosnian origin, and Tariq Ur Rehman, who is believed to be in Pakistan.

'Most Serious Since September 11'

The men are charged with 10 terrorism-related counts, including conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and to commit murder in a foreign country. Each of the defendants faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

When U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Zazi's arrest on February 23, he said that if successful, the plot would have been the most serious attack against the United States since September 11, 2001.

Holder also said that before law-enforcement authorities learned of his plans, Zazi's plot "was in motion and would have been deadly" but that Zazi was under surveillance throughout.

And he vowed then to continue the investigation.

"There is no doubt that American lives have been saved. This investigation is ongoing and we will continue to work around the clock, both to bring others involved to justice and to obtain intelligence that we can use to disrupt further plots," Holder said.

Following the attacks of 9/11, captured terrorist Abu Zubaydah told U.S. authorities that Shukrijumah was the most likely Al-Qaeda member to direct an attack inside the United States or Europe.

Shukrijumah studied at a community college in Florida but when the FBI showed up to arrest him in 2003, he had already left the country. The United States has offered a reward of $5 million for information leading to his capture.

On July 7, FBI Executive Assistant Director Sean Joyce described the global terrorist threat as "a threat to the rule of law."

He added, "The transnational nature of this conspiracy, and its connection to plots targeted outside the U.S. underscores the importance of international coordination and collaboration to do everything we can to ensure public safety."