Adis Medunjanin

Adis Medunjanin is a convicted Islamist extremist, foreign terrorist fighter, and attempted domestic terrorist. Between 2008 and 2009, he and two friends—Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay—traveled to Pakistan and received weapons training in an al-Qaeda training camp there. The three men returned to the United States and plotted to carry out a coordinated suicide bomb attack on the New York City subway system.Mosi Secret, “Prison for Father Who Lied About Terror Plot,” New York Times, February 10, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/11/nyregion/mohammed-wali-zazi-sentenced-for-lying-about-subway-bomb-plot.html; “Najibullah Zazi Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Use Explosives Against Persons or Property in U.S., Conspiracy to Murder Abroad and Providing Material Support to Al-Qaeda,” U.S. Department of Justice, February 22, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/najibullah-zazi-pleads-guilty-conspiracy-use-explosives-against-persons-or-property-us. According to a report in the New York Times, Medunjanin was considered the “heart and soul” of the plot, as his radical Islamist beliefs helped to inspire the group to participate in jihad.Mosi Secret, “Man Convicted of a Terrorist Plot to Bomb Subways Is Sent to Prison for Life,” New York Times, November 16, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/nyregion/adis-medunjanin-convicted-of-subway-bomb-plot-gets-life-sentence.html. Although he denied any involvement in the plot, on November 16, 2012, Medunjanin was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for multiple terrorism offenses.Mosi Secret, “Man Convicted of a Terrorist Plot to Bomb Subways Is Sent to Prison for Life,” New York Times, November 16, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/nyregion/adis-medunjanin-convicted-of-subway-bomb-plot-gets-life-sentence.html.

Medunjanin was born in Bosnia and moved with his family to the United States in 1994. He lived in Queens, New York, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2002.Susan Candiotti, “Two New Yorkers questioned in Zazi investigation, attorneys say,” CNN, October 9, 2009, http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/10/09/us.terror.probe/. Medunjanin graduated from Queens College in June 2009 with a degree in economics. According to two students from the Queens College Muslim Student Association, Medunjanin was a quiet, humble, and respected student. He was very religious and highly regarded for his knowledge of Islam. Medunjanin used the association’s group prayer room approximately two or three times per week.William K. Rashbaum and David Johnston, “Officials Focus on New Suspects in Terror Case,” New York Times, October 9, 2009, https://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/10/nyregion/10terror.html. He later worked as a part-time building superintendent in Queens.Samantha Stainburn, “Adis Medunjanin, Bosnian immigrant, gets life in prison for subway bomb plot,” Public Radio International, November 16, 2012, https://www.pri.org/stories/2012-11-16/adis-medunjanin-bosnian-immigrant-gets-life-prison-subway-bomb-plot; Chad Bray, “U.S. Links Failed Subway Bombing to Similar Plot in U.K.,” Wall Street Journal, July 7, 2010, https://blogs.wsj.com/metropolis/2010/07/07/charges-coming-against-al-quaeda-leader-in-subway-bomb-plot/. The three conspirators—Medunjanin, Zazi, and Ahmedzay—were friends and former high school classmates and reportedly frequented the same mosque in Queens.Susan Candiotti, “Two New Yorkers questioned in Zazi investigation, attorneys say,” CNN, October 9, 2009, http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/10/09/us.terror.probe/.

On August 28, 2008, Medunjanin, Zazi, and Ahmedzay traveled from Newark, New Jersey, to Peshawar, Pakistan. They initially intended to fight against the U.S. military alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, but Medunjanin and Ahmedzay were turned away at the Afghan border. Instead, al-Qaeda recruited the three men who then traveled to the Waziristan region of Pakistan to receive military-style weapons training. There, they met with al-Qaeda leaders Saleh al-Somali, then-head of al-Qaeda external operations, and Rashid Rauf, a high-ranking al-Qaeda operative, who suggested that the three return to New York and conduct suicide bomb attacks in the United States. They also discussed potential target locations, such as the New York City subway system, Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan, the New York Stock Exchange, Times Square, and movie theaters.“Najibullah Zazi Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Use Explosives Against Persons or Property in U.S., Conspiracy to Murder Abroad and Providing Material Support to Al-Qaeda,” U.S. Department of Justice, February 22, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/najibullah-zazi-pleads-guilty-conspiracy-use-explosives-against-persons-or-property-us; “Al Qaeda Operative Convicted by Jury in One of the Most Serious Terrorist Plots Against America since 9/11,” U.S. Department of Justice, May 1, 2012, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/al-qaeda-operative-convicted-jury-one-most-serious-terrorist-plots-against-america-911; “The United States of America vs. Adis Medunjanin et al. – Superseding Indictment,” U.S. Department of Justice, January 11, 2012, https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.nyed.299843.157.0.pdf.

After agreeing to carry out the “martyrdom” operation, Medunjanin traveled back to Newark, New Jersey, on September 25, 2008.“The United States of America vs. Adis Medunjanin et al. – Superseding Indictment,” U.S. Department of Justice, January 11, 2012, https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.nyed.299843.157.0.pdf; “Al Qaeda Operative Convicted by Jury in One of the Most Serious Terrorist Plots Against America since 9/11,” U.S. Department of Justice, May 1, 2012, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/al-qaeda-operative-convicted-jury-one-most-serious-terrorist-plots-against-america-911. According to a report in the New York Times, Medunjanin was considered the “heart and soul” of the New York City subway plot, as his radical Islamist beliefs helped to inspire the group to participate in jihad. However, Zazi, who returned to the United States in January 2009 after receiving additional explosives training in Pakistan, took the leading role and was responsible for assembling the bombs.“Najibullah Zazi Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Use Explosives Against Persons or Property in U.S., Conspiracy to Murder Abroad and Providing Material Support to Al-Qaeda,” U.S. Department of Justice, February 22, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/najibullah-zazi-pleads-guilty-conspiracy-use-explosives-against-persons-or-property-us. Mosi Secret, “Man Convicted of a Terrorist Plot to Bomb Subways Is Sent to Prison for Life,” New York Times, November 16, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/nyregion/adis-medunjanin-convicted-of-subway-bomb-plot-gets-life-sentence.html. Between June and September 2009, co-conspirator Zazi—then living in Denver, Colorado—conducted extensive research, purchased items needed to manufacture triacetone triperoxide (TATP), and constructed the explosives for the detonator components of the bombs.“Najibullah Zazi Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Use Explosives Against Persons or Property in U.S., Conspiracy to Murder Abroad and Providing Material Support to Al-Qaeda,” U.S. Department of Justice, February 22, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/najibullah-zazi-pleads-guilty-conspiracy-use-explosives-against-persons-or-property-us; “New York Terror Case – Indictment Announced,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, September 24, 2009, https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/news/stories/2009/september/zazi_092409.

On September 8, Zazi rented a car and drove from Denver to New York City, bringing the bomb-making materials with him. Zazi connected with Medunjanin and Ahmedzay there, where they planned to assemble the remaining components of the bombs and carry out an attack on the Manhattan subway lines a few days later. However, the three men aborted their plan and discarded their explosives after realizing that U.S. law enforcement was investigating Zazi’s activities.“Najibullah Zazi Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Use Explosives Against Persons or Property in U.S., Conspiracy to Murder Abroad and Providing Material Support to Al-Qaeda,” U.S. Department of Justice, February 22, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/najibullah-zazi-pleads-guilty-conspiracy-use-explosives-against-persons-or-property-us. On September 14, the FBI searched Medunjanin’s apartment in the Whitestone neighborhood of Queens, New York. According to his attorney, he was not the primary target of the investigation at that time and fully cooperated with the authorities.“The United States of America vs. Adis Medunjanin et al. – Affidavit,” U.S. Department of Justice, April 11, 2011, https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.nyed.299843.127.0.pdf; Susan Candiotti, “Two New Yorkers questioned in Zazi investigation, attorneys say,” CNN, October 9, 2009, http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/10/09/us.terror.probe/. Zazi, however, flew back to Colorado and was arrested on September 19.“Najibullah Zazi Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Use Explosives Against Persons or Property in U.S., Conspiracy to Murder Abroad and Providing Material Support to Al-Qaeda,” U.S. Department of Justice, February 22, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/najibullah-zazi-pleads-guilty-conspiracy-use-explosives-against-persons-or-property-us; “The United States of America vs. Najibullah Zazi – Government’s Proffer And Memorandum Of Law In Support Of Motion For Detention,” U.S. Department of Justice, September 24, 2009, https://www.justice.gov/archive/usao/co/news/2009/September09/Zazi_Detention_Motion.pdf.

On January 7, 2010, law enforcement conducted another search on Medunjanin’s apartment. Shortly thereafter, Medunjanin attempted to carry out another suicide terrorist attack by driving his car and crashing it into another vehicle at high speed on the Whitestone Expressway in Queens. Moments before the impact, he called emergency services at 9-1-1, identified himself, and shouted “We love death more than you love your life.”“Al Qaeda Operative Convicted by Jury in One of the Most Serious Terrorist Plots Against America since 9/11,” U.S. Department of Justice, May 1, 2012, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/al-qaeda-operative-convicted-jury-one-most-serious-terrorist-plots-against-america-911. “The United States of America vs. Adis Medunjanin et al. – Superseding Indictment,” U.S. Department of Justice, January 11, 2012, https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.nyed.299843.157.0.pdf; “Al-Qaeda Operative Sentenced to Life in Prison in One of the Most Serious Terrorist Plots Against the United States since 9/11,” U.S. Department of Justice, November 16, 2012, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/al-qaeda-operative-sentenced-life-prison-one-most-serious-terrorist-plots-against-united; Susan Candiotti, “Two New Yorkers questioned in Zazi investigation, attorneys say,” CNN, October 9, 2009, http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/10/09/us.terror.probe/. However, Medunjanin failed in the attempted suicide vehicular attack and subsequently fled the scene by foot. Later that day, Medunjanin was arrested for leaving the scene of the car accident, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ultimately charged him with more serious crimes.“The United States of America vs. Adis Medunjanin et al. – Affidavit,” U.S. Department of Justice, April 11, 2011, https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.nyed.299843.127.0.pdf; Michael Daly, “Adis Medunjanin goes from Flushing High School student to suspected terrorist,” Daily News, January 9, 2010, https://www.nydailynews.com/news/adis-medunjanin-flushing-high-school-student-suspected-terrorist-article-1.458403.

On November 16, 2012, Medunjanin was sentenced to life in prison for multiple terrorism offenses, including his role in plotting to carry out a coordinated suicide bomb attack on the New York City subway system. He pled not guilty and denied any involvement throughout his trial. During his sentencing hearing, Medunjanin spent several minutes singing verses from the Quran. He also recited what he perceived as atrocities of American foreign policies, namely the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the use of waterboarding, and the killing of innocent civilians during the Iraq War. Reiterating his innocence, he concluded his statement by asking Allah to release him from prison.Mosi Secret, “Man Convicted of a Terrorist Plot to Bomb Subways Is Sent to Prison for Life,” New York Times, November 16, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/nyregion/adis-medunjanin-convicted-of-subway-bomb-plot-gets-life-sentence.html.

Co-conspirators Zazi and Ahmedzay were also apprehended. On February 22, 2010, Zazi pled guilty to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against persons or property in the United States, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, and providing material support to a terrorist organization. He currently awaits his sentencing and reportedly works for the U.S. government as a cooperating witness.Trevor Aaronson, “The Cooperators: Terrorism Defendants With Concrete Ties to Violent Extremists Leverage Their Connections to Avoid Prison,” The Intercept, April 20, 2017, https://theintercept.com/2017/04/20/terrorism-defendants-with-concrete-ties-to-violent-extremists-leverage-their-connections-to-avoid-prison/; “United States v. Zazi (1:09-cr-00663),” Court Listener, accessed April 17, 2019, https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4320003/parties/united-states-v-zazi/; “Najibullah Zazi Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Use Explosives Against Persons or Property in U.S., Conspiracy to Murder Abroad and Providing Material Support to Al-Qaeda,” U.S. Department of Justice, February 22, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/najibullah-zazi-pleads-guilty-conspiracy-use-explosives-against-persons-or-property-us. Ahmedzay pled guilty in April 2010, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in December 2018. Like Zazi, he is also working as a cooperating witness for the U.S. government.“Al-Qaeda Operative Sentenced to 40 Years in Prison for Role in International Terrorism Plot that Targeted the United States and Europe,” Department of Justice, November 24, 2015, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/al-qaeda-operative-sentenced-40-years-prison-role-international-terrorism-plot-targeted; Mikey Light and Larry McShane, “Would-be NYC subway bomber turned "extraordinary" cooperating witness takes step toward freedom,” Daily News, December 14, 2018, https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/ny-metro-subway-bomber-sentencing-20181214-story.html.

Also Known As

Extremist entity
Al-Qaeda
Type(s) of Organization:
Non-state actor, religious, terrorist, transnational, violent
Ideologies and Affiliations:
Jihadist, pan-Islamist, Qutbist, Salafist, Sunni, takfiri
Position(s):
Foreign fighter, attempted domestic terrorist

Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks was the deadliest ever on American soil, killing nearly 3,000 people. Since the fall of the Taliban, al-Qaeda has established operations worldwide, including in Syria, the Gulf, North Africa, West Africa, East Africa, and the Indian subcontinent.

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On June 24, 2017, Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) launched back-to-back explosions at a market in Kurram Agency of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in northwest Pakistan. The attack killed 67 people who were shopping in preparation for a religious holiday and wounded 200 others. 

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