With attempted terrorist Najibullah Zazi pleading guilty to three criminal charges before a federal judge in New York, Attorney General Eric Holder says that Zazi’s case proves that the US Justice Department can effectively prosecute terrorists.
And he noted during a news conference Monday following the guilty plea that the trial of self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators could still be held in New York City, despite widespread opposition from Republicans and Democrats.
On Monday, the Justice Department reported that Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan native and legal permanent resident of the US, pleaded guilty to conspiring to orchestrate a terrorist attack within the United States, as well as to charges of providing material support to al-Qaeda.
“This was one of the most serious terrorist threats to our nation since September 11th, 2001, and were it not for the combined efforts of the law enforcement and intelligence communities, it could have been devastating,” Holder said. “This attempted attack on our homeland was real, it was in motion, and it would have been deadly. We were able to thwart this plot because of careful analysis by our intelligence agents and prompt actions by law enforcement. They deserve our thanks and praise.”
At a news conference following the announcement, Holder said the plea deal “demonstrates that our federal civilian criminal justice system has the ability to incapacitate terrorists, has the ability to gain intelligence from those terrorists and is a valuable tool in our fight against terrorism.”
According to a Department of Justice press release, Zazi and other conspirators traveled to Afghanistan with the purpose of joining Taliban militants in combat against US and allied forces. Shortly after their arrival in Peshawar, Zazi and his group were recruited by al-Qaeda, and were given formal training with explosives. Zazi intended to use TATP (Triacetone Triperoxide) explosives to conduct an attack on New York City subway lines, coordinating the attack with the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The subway bombing plot represented the most serious terrorism threat to America since the 9/11 attacks, Holder said.
Zazi’s case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attoney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, with assistance from the District of Colorado office, and the Justice Department’s National Security Division Counterterrorism Section.
Holder and the Obama administration have come under heavy Republican fire as of recent for their urging to hold the trials of self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and co-conspirators in a New York criminal court.
Holder asserts that the Zazi guilty plea proves that his department is capable of handling the 9/11 trials.
“To take this tool out of our hands to denigrate the use of this tool flies in the face of the facts, in the face of the history of the use of that tool and is more about politics than it is about facts,” Holder said.
Zazi’s guilty plea and cooperation with law officials came after he was warned that some of his family members could face possible criminal charges related to the foiled terrorist attack. The pressure resulted in a 10-page sealed plea agreement.
As the case points out, the criminal court system provides for plea-incentives that can provide useful information to the prosecution, an option that is not readily available within the military tribunal system.
“The criminal justice system also contains powerful incentives to induce pleas that yield long sentences and gain intelligence that can be used in the fight against al-Qaeda. We will use all available tools whenever possible against suspected terrorists,” Holder told reporters during Monday’s news conference.
Despite the criticism and efforts to stymie a criminal trial of Mohammed and the alleged 9/11 conspirators, Holder still says that the possibility of a Manhattan trial is in play, according to the New York Daily News.
The newspaper quoted Holder as saying that a decision on where to hold the trial is expected “relatively soon.”
“But a Manhattan trial – strongly opposed by New York officials – remains in play, Holder said,” according to the Daily News.
Ray Storez is a staff writer for The Public Record based in Connecticut.