Zarein Ahmedzay

Zarein Ahmedzay is a convicted Islamist extremist, foreign fighter, and attempted domestic terrorist. Between 2008 and 2009, he and two friends—Najibullah Zazi and Adis Medunjanin—traveled to Pakistan and received weapons training at an al-Qaeda terrorist camp there. The three men then 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. Ahmedzay was arrested in January 2010 and charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, and providing material support to al-Qaeda. He was sentenced on December 14, 2018 to 10 years in prison.“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; “Zarein Ahmedzay Pleads Guilty to Terror Violations in Connection with Al-Qaeda New York Subway Plot,” U.S. Department of Justice, April 23, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/zarein-ahmedzay-pleads-guilty-terror-violations-connection-al-qaeda-new-york-subway-plot; William K. Rashbaum, “After Months of Scrutiny in Zazi Terrorism Case, Two Arrests Came as a Surprise,” New York Times, January 8, 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/09/nyregion/09zazi.html.

Ahmedzay, Zazi, and Medunjanin were friends and former high school classmates. They reportedly frequented the same mosque in Queens and shared an iPod to listen to radical lectures.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/; Mosi Secret, “In Terrorists’ Testimony, a Rare, Intimate Look Into a Secretive World,” New York Times, April 29, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/30/nyregion/testimony-of-4-admitted-terrorists-gives-a-rare-view-of-al-qaeda.html. After dropping out from Queens College in New York City, Ahmedzay worked as a cab driver in and took the civil service test in 2007 to become a New York City firefighter. He passed the exam, but was listed far down on the waiting list.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; Janon Fisher, “Qaeda rant of bomb zombie,” New York Post, April 24, 2010, https://nypost.com/2010/04/24/qaeda-rant-of-bomb-zombie/.

On August 28, 2008, Ahmedzay, Zazi, and Medunjanin traveled from Newark, New Jersey, to Peshawar, Pakistan. They initially intended to fight against the U.S. military alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, but Ahmedzay and Medunjanin 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. Ahmedzay and Zazi had planned to receive additional explosives training a month later, but Ahmedzay decided against the opportunity and Zazi attended training alone. In Waziristan, 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 carry out 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; “Zarein Ahmedzay Pleads Guilty to Terror Violations in Connection with Al-Qaeda New York Subway Plot,” U.S. Department of Justice, April 23, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/zarein-ahmedzay-pleads-guilty-terror-violations-connection-al-qaeda-new-york-subway-plot.

After agreeing to carry out the suicide bombing operations, Ahmedzay traveled back to Newark, New Jersey, on January 22, 2009.“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 Ahmedzay’s testimony in court, his role in the plot was to provide details on possible target locations in New York City, given his knowledge of the city as a cab driver.Janon Fisher, “Qaeda rant of bomb zombie,” New York Post, April 24, 2010, https://nypost.com/2010/04/24/qaeda-rant-of-bomb-zombie/. Zazi was responsible for assembling the bombs due to his additional explosives training in Pakistan, while Medunjanin’s radical Islamist beliefs helped to inspire the group to participate in jihad.“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. According to court documents, Ahmedzay had initial reservations about the suicide bombing, but proceeded with the plan nonetheless.“Zarein Ahmedzay Pleads Guilty to Terror Violations in Connection with Al-Qaeda New York Subway Plot,” U.S. Department of Justice, April 23, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/zarein-ahmedzay-pleads-guilty-terror-violations-connection-al-qaeda-new-york-subway-plot.

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 Ahmedzay and Medunjanin 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 their 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. Zazi 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.

Ahmedzay pled guilty to several terrorism charges in April 2010, and was sentenced in December 2018 to 10 years in prison. He is reportedly 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; “Zarein Ahmedzay Pleads Guilty to Terror Violations in Connection with Al-Qaeda New York Subway Plot,” U.S. Department of Justice, April 23, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/zarein-ahmedzay-pleads-guilty-terror-violations-connection-al-qaeda-new-york-subway-plot.

Co-conspirators Zazi and Medunjanin were also apprehended. In February 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. On May 2, 2019, Zazi was sentenced to 10 years in prison.Jonathan Dienst, “Man who plotted to blow up NYC subway may soon walk free,” NBC News, May 2, 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/justice-department/man-who-plotted-blow-nyc-subway-may-soon-walk-free-n1001101. However, like Ahmedzay, was reportedly working 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/. As a result, in September 2019, due to Zazi’s cooperation with U.S. investigators, a federal judge said he would not serve any additional prison time and he was soon released.Erica Orden, “Najibullah Zazi, who plotted to bomb the new York Subway, gets a second chance,” CNN, September 28, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/01/us/najibullah-zazi-new-york-subway-bomb-plot-sentencing/index.html. In November 2012, Medunjanin, was sentenced to life in prison for multiple terrorism offenses, including his role in plotting to carry out a coordinated suicide bombing attack on the New York City subway system. He pled not guilty and denied any involvement throughout his trial.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.

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