By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Colorado man lied to FBI agents and helped destroy chemicals used by his son to build homemade bombs he intended to use in an attack on New York City's subway system, a prosecutor said at trial Monday.
Afghanistan-born U.S. citizen Mohammed Zazi, 55, is on trial on charges of obstructing the investigation into a plot by his son, Najibullah Zazi, 26, to bomb the subway in 2009 using instructions from Al Qaeda operatives the son trained with in Pakistan.
In opening arguments to a Brooklyn federal court jury, prosecutor Andrew Goldsmith said the FBI was frantically trying to stop a suspected attack -- knowing neither the intended target nor the attacker -- when they showed up on Mohammed Zazi's doorstep in Aurora, Colorado, in September 2009.
Goldsmith said that Mohammed Zazi's efforts to thwart the investigation included telling family members to lie and helping to destroy chemicals, masks and other evidence.
"In the midst of trying to stop this terrorist attack on New York City, the FBI wasted time and resources trying to untangle the defendant's lies," Goldsmith told jurors.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder later called the plot the most serious security threat in the United States since the September 11, 2001 attacks. Najibullah Zazi, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the government, admitted to having traveled to Pakistan, where he was recruited by Al Qaeda and received bomb-making instructions.
When he returned, he put into motion a plan to bomb the New York City subway system near the September 11 anniversary.
A lawyer for Mohammed Zazi told the jury that he was shocked by the accusations against his son.
When the FBI became involved, Zazi did everything he could to hold together a family put under "intense pressure" by the allegations and trying above all to "do the right thing," defense counsel Justine Harris said in her opening argument.
'He didn't destroy or conceal evidence. Above all, Mohammed Zazi had no intention of obstructing justice," Harris said.
The younger Zazi, who was also born in Afghanistan and is a permanent U.S. resident, pleaded guilty in February 2010 to conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction. He is scheduled to be sentenced in December.
His father faces up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted at the trial, which is expected to last about a week.
The son has been listed as a potential defense witness, but Mohammed Zazi's lawyers said Monday that he was unlikely to take the stand.
The case is U.S. v. Zazi, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, No. 10-60.
(Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)