Jurors in a federal terror trial heard on Thursday two compelling but contradictory narratives about defendant Adis Medunjanin, who is accused of plotting suicide attacks in the city’s subway.
The prosecution painted a portrait of Medunjanin, 27, as an al-Qaida operative committed to killing himself and as many of his fellow Americans as he could.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Berit Berger said Medunjanin was so consumed by violent jihad rage that he called 911 to proclaim he "loved death more than life" as he revved his car engine above 90 miles per hour and deliberately crashed on the Whitestone Expressway in hopes of causing a high casualty event.
Berger also told jurors that Medunjanin and his two former high school classmates, Zarein Ahmedzay 27 and Najibullah Zazi, 26, had conspired in 2008 to travel to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area to join the ranks of the Taliban in hopes of killing American soldiers. The prosecution alleged that instead of joining the Taliban, they made it to an al-Qaida camp in Waziristan, where the three received training that would enable them to carry out an attack on the New York City subway system.
The defense, however, painted a much different picture of Medunjanin. Defense attorney Robert Gottlieb argued Medunjanin is a devout Muslim, who rejected suicide bombing, but had a "romantic" notion of joining the Taliban to protect his fellow Muslims whom he felt were being increasingly targeted.
Gottlieb told jurors his client’s own escape from the atrocities in Bosnia deepened his sense of obligation to protect his fellow Muslim where he saw them under siege. He argued the steady flow of news about corruption in the Karzai administration, the deaths of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, the photos of Abu Ghraib and the use of drones by the U.S. left Medunjanin with the sense that Muslims were once again under siege.
Gottlieb asked jurors to be skeptical of testimony from the FBI agent who was the lead interrogator in the case and testified Medunjanin said, "He loved Osama bin Laden more than himself" and that he "intended to kill American soldiers" during the interrogation.
"This is no where to be found in any of the notes," Gottlieb said. Gottlieb said jurors should question why the FBI in this case had no audio or video of interview that went on for two days.
Key testimony in the case came from Medunjanin’s two co-conspirators, both of whom pleaded guilty and cooperated in the case against Medunjanin.
His attorney contended that Medunjanin had a falling out with his two classmates at the al-Qaida camp, but Berger produced cellphone bills that indicated the three subsequently maintained near daily communication.
The case is expected to go to the jury Monday.