(Updates with Badat testimony starting in ninth paragraph.)
April 23 (Bloomberg) — Saajid Muhammad Badat, convicted in the U.K. in 2005 of plotting to explode an airplane, testified that Osama Bin Laden told him his mission would help bring down the U.S. economy.
“He said that the American economy is like a chain. If you break one — one link of the chain — the whole economy will be brought down,” Badat said the now-deceased leader of the terrorist group al-Qaeda told him in a one-on-one meeting in Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Badat testified today at the trial of a New York man, Adis Medunjanin, accused of plotting to blow up New York subways in 2009 on behalf of al-Qaeda.
Jurors heard Badat’s recorded testimony in federal court in Brooklyn, New York. Badat, 33, is the first terrorist convicted in the U.K. to present evidence in a U.S. trial, the Crown Prosecution Service said in an April 16 statement.
Medunjanin, 28, Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay were recruited by al-Qaeda to bomb subway lines in Manhattan around the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to the indictment. The plot was stopped within days of its happening in 2009, prosecutors said. Zazi, 26, and Ahmedzay, 27, who pleaded guilty in 2010, are cooperating with the government and testified at the trial.
In August 2008, the three men went to join the Taliban in Pakistan where they were recruited by al-Qaeda, which gave them military training and encouraged them to conduct suicide attacks in the U.S., Ahmedzay and Zazi said. The plan was for an attack during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The three men lived in the New York borough of Queens and went to Flushing High School.
Badat pleaded guilty to plotting to bring a shoe bomb on an airplane and was sentenced to 13 years, later lowered to 11 because of his cooperation. He abandoned the al-Qaeda plot. His co-conspirator was Richard Reid, who was flying to Miami from Paris in December 2001 when he was found trying to light his shoe. Reid pleaded guilty and is serving a life sentence in the U.S.
Badat said he backed out of the plan because of reluctance, fear and concern for his family.
“You’ll have to tell Van Damme that he could be on his own,” Badat, by then in the U.K., e-mailed to his al-Qaeda handler, referring to Reid.
Badat said one reason he agreed to cooperate in terrorism trials was that he wanted to testify against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks who was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and is charged with war crimes.
Badat said he has come to believe that Mohammed’s views are wrong and that he and others in al-Qaeda manipulate people, including young people. He told U.K. authorities that the Sept. 11 terrorists were victims — “to a lesser extent, a much lesser extent” — as were those who died in the attacks, he testified.
He went to Afghanistan in 1999 to be trained in weapons, explosives, navigation and intelligence, to fight “oppressors of Muslims.” As with the accused subway bombers, he was then recruited by al-Qaeda for a suicide mission.
In his April 16 opening statement, Robert Gottlieb, one of Medunjanin’s lawyers, said Badat’s testimony will show that the three subway-plot suspects received much less extensive training in Pakistan. Badat testified that he received about six to eight months of training in Afghanistan over three years.
Badat, who was arrested in November 2003, said he couldn’t travel to New York to testify because U.S. charges are pending against him stemming from the same incident and he would be arrested. He was released after six years in prison in the U.K. in March 2010.
The Medunjanin jury began hearing live testimony today of Bryant Neal Vinas, a 29-year-old man from Long Island, New York, who also traveled to Pakistan to fight in Afghanistan and then joined al-Qaeda. He participated in two efforts to attack U.S. forces near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan in September 2008, according to court records. He pleaded guilty in the U.S. in 2009.
Vinas, a graduate of Longwood High School in Middle Island, previously said he provided information to al-Qaeda leaders about New York City’s transit system for a bomb attack, according to court records.
He testified today that he suggested to al-Qaeda that it bomb Wal-Mart and the Long Island Rail Road in the U.S.
He also agreed to conduct a suicide mission, Vinas testified.
“I was having a difficult time with the altitude, I was feeling very sick, so I thought it would be easier,” he said. Such a “martyrdom operation” is “the highest, most honorable death in jihad,” he said.
Ultimately, he was told he didn’t have enough religious knowledge to carry out a mission, he said.
Medunjanin is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Bosnia. Ahmedzay immigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan. Zazi was born in Pakistan. He testified that he had falsely written on immigration forms and told authorities that he was from Afghanistan. The three have been in custody since their arrests.
U.S. District Judge John Gleeson is presiding over the trial, which may last about three weeks.
The case is U.S. v. Medunjanin, 1:10-cr-00019, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
–With assistance from Chris Dolmetsch and Patricia Hurtado in New York. Editors: Mary Romano, Charles Carter
To contact the reporter on this story: Thom Weidlich in Brooklyn, New York, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at email@example.com.