NEW YORK (AP) — A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld the conviction of an American citizen who prosecutors said was persuaded by al-Qaida to carry out a suicide attack in New York's subways with two former high school classmates from Queens.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan rejected Adis Medunjanin's claims that his 2012 trial was unfair because statements he made to FBI agents and police detectives should have been suppressed.
Medunjanin, originally from Bosnia, was sentenced to life in prison in November 2012 for his role in a foiled 2009 conspiracy considered the most serious al-Qaida plot inside the United States since the 9/11 terror attacks.
In a decision written by Judge Amalya Kearse, the appeals court said Medunjanin was apprised of his rights repeatedly during extensive questioning in January 2010. The three-judge panel concluded that law enforcement authorities had no obligation to inform Medunjanin that his attorney, Robert Gottlieb, was trying to reach him when they questioned him despite Gottlieb's insistence that he not be questioned without him present.
Gottlieb promised to appeal.
"The government's gross misconduct in intentionally hiding Mr. Medunjanin to prevent him from speaking with his lawyer and ignoring his lawyer's demand not to interrogate him cries out for Supreme Court review," he said. "The constitutional right to an attorney applies to everyone, no matter who he is or what the charges might be."
At Medunjanin's trial, former classmates Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay testified that the three men sought terror training in Pakistan after hearing the inflammatory recordings of a U.S.-born extremist cleric.
They said the trio traveled to Pakistan in 2008 to avenge the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan but were persuaded by al-Qaida operatives to return to the United States for a suicide-bombing mission against a major target such as the New York Stock Exchange, Times Square or Grand Central Terminal.
Eventually, the men settled on a plot to blow themselves up at rush hour, Zazi testified. The plot was abandoned after Zazi realized he was being followed by law enforcement.
Zazi, an Afghan-American cab driver living in the Denver suburbs, was arrested in September 2009. Zazi and Ahmedzay, a Bosnia-born former New York cab driver, are awaiting sentencing after cooperating with the government in the hopes of getting a reduced sentence.
In January 2010, Medunjanin realized he was being investigated on serious charges and took to a Queens highway, traveling at over 90 mph in a bid to cause a crash that would kill other motorists, the government said.
Prosecutors said that just before he crashed in an accident that caused no serious injuries he dialed 911 and cried out: "We love death more than you love life!"
At his sentencing, Medunjanin recited verses from the Quran and said he had "nothing to do with any subway plot or bombing plot whatsoever."