NYC's Subway Terror Plot: Others Tried, Failed, and Succeeded
Days after Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty for his role in an al Qaeda terror conspiracy to bomb New York City's subway system, two of his alleged co-conspirators were indicted by a federal grand jury on five felony counts of conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction to blow up subways in Manhattan sometime between September 14 - 16, 2009.
Zarein Ahmedzay and Adis Medunjanin, both 25 year-old U.S. citizens living in Queens, could get life in prison if convicted of the terror charges (see below).
This is not the first attempt, however, to attack a congested subway system and its passengers in a major metropolitan area. Some have been unsuccessful, while others succeeeded with deadly consequences.
The charges against Ahmedzay and Medunjanin also allege that they flew from Newark, New Jersey to Peshawar, Pakistan, a border town next to Afghanistan. From there, authorities believe that Ahemdzay and Medunjanin traveled to Waziristan and Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the widely believed al Qaeda base of operations and location for some of its terrorist training camps.
Apparently using information obtained from a cooperating Zazi, federal prosecutors allege that Ahmedzay and Medunjanin received military-type training from al Qaeda, and subsequently returned to the U.S. where they conspired to make bombs ('weapons of mass destruction,' in legalese) and blow up New York City subways.
You can read the indictment of Ahmedzay and Medunjanin here:
You can read the charges to which Zazi plead guilty here:
Unfortunately, this is not the first attempt to carry out terrorist attacks against passengers on New York City's subway system.
American Shahawar Matin Siraj was charged and convicted of plotting to carry out a terrorist attack on the congested Herald Square subway station in Manhattan at 34th Street near Macy's. He was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.
Moreover, terrorists have a history of successful attacks on subway systems and their passengers around the world.
In 1995, members of Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese cult, carried out a terrorist attack on Tokyo's subway system by releasing sarin gas to unknowing passengers — the same poison that Saddam Hussein reportedly used in genocidal attacks on Kurds in Northern Iraq — According to an article on the attack in a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publication, Aum Shinrikyo's method of attack was brutal, yet apparently quite simple: group members carried pre-mixed chemical packages with poison sarin into subways, then released the deadly materials using sharpened umbrella tips to puncture the sarin-filled bags.
The results were terrifying: 12 people were killed, thousands were injured and hospitalized, and approximately 15 subway stations in Tokyo — one of the world's busiest public transportation systems — were targeted.
Two decades later, 52 people were killed in London, England in terrorist attacks carried out by radical Islamists terror attacks against morning commuters on the city's subway system, or 'Tube.' Although al Qaeda allegedly claimed responsibility for the attack, British security and law enforcement officials reportedly believe that individuals accused in the plot "were working in isolation - were radicali[z]ed by…the oldest man…[and had] little or no help from abroad.
- Two plead not guilty to NYC subway bomb plot, Reuters (Feb. 25, 2010)
- Afghan admits NYC bomb plot, al Qaeda training, Reuters (Feb. 22, 2010)
- Anatomy Of a Foiled Plot, New York Magazine (May 21, 2005)
- Aum Shinrikyo: Once and Future Threat?, Olson, Kyle B., Emerging Infectious Diseases Vol. 5., No. 4 (Jul.-Aug. 1999)
- London Attacks, BBC
- Terror-Related Cases FindLaw
- Some Terrorism Laws FindLaw