Terror suspect Najibullah Zazi admitted in court Monday to a plot to bomb New York City subways, saying he was recruited by al-Qaida in Pakistan for a "martyrdom plan" against the United States.
The 25-year-old former Denver airport shuttle driver and Afghan native pleaded guilty to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country and providing material support for a terrorist organization.
When asked by the judge if he was trying to be a martyr, Zazi responded: "Yes, your honor. I have a different explanation to that. To me, it meant that I would sacrifice myself to bring attention to what the United States military was doing to civilians in Afghanistan by sacrificing my soul for the sake of saving other souls."
He admitted that his goal all along had been to detonate an explosive device on the the city's mass transit.
He faces life in prison without parole in a plea deal.
Zazi was arrested in September after arousing authorities suspicions by driving cross-country from Denver to New York around the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Authorities say he received al-Qaida training in Pakistan, bought beauty supplies in Colorado and tried to use them to cook up homemade bombs in a Colorado hotel room.
He said he disposed of the chemicals in New York just before his arrest.
One of the people familiar with the Zazi case told the AP that Zazi decided to offer the information after being warned that his mother could face criminal immigration charges.
Zazi told the judge Monday that he arrived in New York City on "Thursday, September 10th. And we intend to obtain and assemble the remaining components to build a bomb over the weekend."
He said shortly after his arrival in New York he realized he was being investigated. "At that point, we threw away the detonator explosives and other materials, and I flew back to Denver and I was arrested just a few days after," he said.
Zazi's father was charged earlier this month with trying to get rid of chemicals and other evidence. But it appears he was cut a break: After initially demanding that he be jailed in Brooklyn without bail, prosecutors agreed to a deal on Feb. 17 releasing him on $50,000 bond and allowing him to return to his home in suburban Denver.
By contrast, bond for a Queens imam charged with lying to the FBI about phone contact with Zazi when Zazi was in New York was set at $1.5 million. A friend of Zazi, New York cab driver Zarein Ahemdzay, was jailed without bail on a similar lying charge.
Prosecutors said they believe that Zazi made roughly two pounds of a powerful and highly unstable explosive called triacetone triperoxide, or TATP.
Court documents indicate that Zazi and others bought acetone — nail polish remover — and other ingredients that can be used to make TATP. The same explosive was used by would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid in 2001 and the terrorists who carried out the London bombings in 2005 that killed 52 people.
In those instances, TATP was not the main charge; it was the detonator. The 1.5 grams in Reid's show was supposed to help detonate the plastic explosives aboard a jetliner, and it was used to set off a mixture of black pepper and hydrogen peroxide in London.
Experts has said the TATP in the Zazi case was most likely going to be just the detonator.
But in each of those earlier instances, TATP was not the main charge — it was the detonator. It was supposed to help detonate the plastic explosives in Reid's shoe aboard a jetliner, and it was used to set off a mixture of black pepper and hydrogen peroxide in London.
In a statement, John S. Pistole, the Deputy Director of the FBI said "Zazi presented a substantial threat to the security of the United States. This case has given us all greater insight into the evolving nature of the terrorist threat we face today."
He commended the officers, agents and various local and federal law enforcement officials who cooperated on the case.
The FBI's New York office and the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn declined comment on Monday.
Authorities say Ahmedzay and another New Yorker charged in the case, Adis Medunjanin, traveled to Pakistan with Zazi in 2008. Medunjanin has pleaded not guilty to charges he conspired to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and remains jailed.
The three men, former high school classmates in Queens, are scheduled to appear in federal court in Brooklyn on Feb. 25.
Officials earlier confirmed reports week that Zazi's uncle had been arraigned on a felony count in secret — a sign that he also could be cooperating.
"The plan was to conduct martyrdom operation on subway lines in Manhattan as soon as the material(s) were ready," he said