An admitted al-Qaida recruit testified Wednesday that he and two friends were determined to spread panic and "weaken America" by strapping on suicide bombs and attacking New York City subways around the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Najibullah Zazi told a jury that he slipped detonator ingredients into the city on Sept. 10, 2009, after the chemicals extracted from beauty supplies passed a test run. Using code words, he then frantically emailed one of his al-Qaida handlers to get the exact formula for building homemade bombs to go with detonators.
"The marriage is ready," Zazi wrote — code words signaling that he and two of his radicalized former high school classmates from Queens were ready to die as martyrs.
Zazi said the plan was abandoned after he noticed that everywhere he drove in New York, a car followed.
"I think law enforcement is on us," he recalled telling one of his co-conspirators, Zarein Ahmedzay.
Later, he said he told the third man, Adis Medunjanin, in a text message, "We are done."
The 26-year-old Zazi testified for a second day at the trial of Medunjanin in federal court in Brooklyn.
Prosecutors say that Zazi, Medunjanin and Ahmedzay — after growing upset over the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and receiving terror training at an al-Qaida compound in Pakistan — together hatched what authorities have described as one of the most serious terror plots since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Medunjanin, 27, a Bosnian-born naturalized U.S. citizen, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, providing material support to a terrorist organization and other charges. He has denied he was ever part of an al-Qaida operation.
Zazi and Ahmedzay, both of Afghan descent, pleaded guilty in 2010 and were jailed without bail after agreeing to become government witnesses in a bid for leniency.
Zazi recounted how, after leaving their Queens neighborhood for Pakistan in 2008, the three Muslim men met a top al-Qaida operative they knew only as Hamad. Authorities say Hamad was Adnan Shukrijumah, a Saudi listed on an FBI website as a fugitive who plotted attacks for al-Qaida worldwide.
Hamad told the three that they were best suited for an operation on U.S. soil. He also mulled over potential targets with them, including the New York Stock Exchange, Times Square and an unspecified Walmart store, Zazi said.
The men ended up picking the subway because "it's the heart of everything in New York City," Zazi said Wednesday. The purpose, he added, was "to make America weak."
He added: "It was our choice."
At another al-Qaida outpost in the South Waziristan region of Pakistan, Zazi said he learned how to extract explosives ingredients from nail polish remover and other products sold at beauty supply stores.
"It was very simple, and they're everywhere," he said of the chemicals.
In a later meeting in New York, the plotters decided to blow themselves up at three different locations at morning rush hour inside the Manhattan subway system during the month of Ramadan, Zazi said. They hoped that "people would have a lot of fear," he said.
After leaving Pakistan, Zazi relocated to Denver, where he tried to blend back into society by driving an airport shuttle van. Behind the scenes, he bought beauty supplies, rented a hotel room with a kitchen and prepared acetone peroxide for a detonator, he said.
He also emailed an al-Qaida operative asking for the recipe — "right away, please" — for a bomb made from flour and ghee oil.
By the time Zazi rented a car and drove to New York with the acetone peroxide in a glass jar, FBI agents were tailing him. When he realized that, he stopped at a Queens mosque and threw away chemicals, goggles and other bomb-building items, he said.
Ahmedzay flushed the acetone peroxide down a toilet as part of the cover-up, he added
He also decided to go back to Colorado. But before he could leave, he discovered his rental car was missing. Authorities have said they secretly took it for a search before allowing him to retrieve it without letting on.
While trying to locate the rental, the would-be suicide bomber who had every reason to fear being caught testified that he still did what most people would do: "I called the police."
He flew back to Denver, where he was arrested about a week later.