NEW YORK - A Queens man was convicted of a host of terrorism charges Tuesday for participating in a plot led by Al Qaeda to stage suicide attacks in the New York subways, an effort that prosecutors said was stopped just days before three former high school classmates planned to set off homemade bombs during rush hour.
The two-week trial offered a rare look at the evolution of a terrorist plot and the workings of Al Qaeda training camps where the former classmates received their orders. Two of the classmates described the plot, and two other convicted terrorists also testified for the government.
The plot began after the defendant, Adis Medunjanin, traveled to Pakistan with two friends from high school with the intention of fighting US troops in Afghanistan. The two friends testified that they were instead recruited to an Al Qaeda training camp, where they were told that they would be far more valuable to their cause by returning to the United States to carry out an act of terrorism.
A lawyer for Medunjanin, 28, a naturalized citizen born in Bosnia, argued that Medunjanin had dropped out of the plot after falling out with the friends, Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay.
The trial, in US District Court in Brooklyn, put on full display the government’s efforts to prosecute terrorists in criminal court, which has been the subject of controversy in recent years, with critics arguing that security risks make military tribunals a more appropriate venue.
Federal authorities have called the subway plot one of the most serious threats to national security since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but the trial concluded without incident.
The jury deliberated for a little more than a day, sending several notes to Judge John Gleeson to seek clarification of the charges, before finding Medunjanin guilty on all counts. When the foreman read the verdict Tuesday afternoon, Medunjanin, who rarely showed emotion during the trial, raised his palms upward and said a prayer. He faces life in prison at his sentencing, which is scheduled for Sept. 7.
The case against Medunjanin centered on the testimony of his friends from Flushing High School, Ahmedzay and Zazi, who had already pleaded guilty to their involvement in the plot and hope for leniency during sentencing. They testified about the steps they had taken to carry out the attack.
They said Medunjanin participated every step of the way, from the decision to travel to the Middle East to fight with the Taliban to the decision to return home to commit jihad. They said he also helped choose the location where they would set off their bombs.
During the trial, a lawyer for Medunjanin, Robert C. Gottlieb, argued that his client had grown apart from his friends and lost contact with them when he returned to the United States two months before his friends did. Gottlieb said Medunjanin had never planned to follow through with the attack.
But prosecutors argued that he remained so dedicated that when he feared he was going to be arrested, months after the plot was uncovered, he fled in his car and crashed into approaching traffic in a last-ditch attempt to commit a suicide attack.
Medunjanin called 911 moments before, screaming, “We love death more than you love life.’’
The trial also featured testimony from two men convicted in separate terrorism plots. Those men, Saajid Badat, a British man who was supposed to bring down an airplane as the second so-called shoe bomber, and Bryant Neal Vinas, a Long Island man who took up arms and fought against US troops in Afghanistan, were called as expert witnesses about Al Qaeda to corroborate facts about the terrorism camps where they both trained.
But the core of the prosecution’s case came from Medunjanin’s two high school friends.