Accused terrorist Abid Naseer was convicted Wednesday by a Brooklyn jury on all counts related to a plot to blow up an English shopping center in 2009, and of his involvement in a global al Qaeda conspiracy to attack other Western targets.
Naseer, who represented himself during the proceedings, appeared emotionless as the jury forewoman read the unanimous decision to the court. He was charged with providing and conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda, as well as conspiracy to use a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence — to explode a car bomb at the Arndale shopping center in Manchester.
Though the trial centered on the Manchester plot, prosecutors painted Naseer, who was born in Pakistan, into a global al Qaeda conspiracy they said was hatched in 2009. The targets of the operation included the New York City subway system, as well as locations in the UK and Denmark. Naseer was accused of using coded language to discuss the plot with other members of the conspiracy. A diagram depicting al Qaeda's command structure, topped by Osama bin Laden's face, was presented throughout the proceedings.
After the verdict, Naseer asked presiding Judge Raymond Dearie for 60 days to appeal, but was only given 30. A court-appointed legal adviser who assisted Naseer — and appeared flustered with Naseer at times during the trial — told reporters his client plans to appeal.
Dearie did not set a date for sentencing. Naseer faces life in prison.
In 2009, Naseer was in the UK on a student visa when he was arrested in a terror sweep along with 11 other young Pakistani men. Despite the fact that Naseer was found to be in possession of large quantities of flour and cooking oil — alleged bomb-making materials — and that the suspects were allegedly trailed as they scoped out targets, British authorities soon released all dozen men.
According to the Telegraph, two of the detained plotters were undercover agents. Eight of the remaining men were returned to Pakistan, while Naseer and one other suspect were allowed to stay after claiming they would face torture in their home country.
American prosecutors soon began extradition proceedings against Naseer, who they posited as the ringleader of the Manchester plot. In 2013, he was shipped to New York.
"If law enforcement hadn't stopped him, he would be the martyr in heaven he so wanted to be," Prosecutor Zainab Ahmad said. "If he had not been stopped, hundreds of men, women, and children would be dead."
The trial included evidence purportedly seized by US Navy SEALs when they raided bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011, killing the al Qaeda leader. Though those materials didn't directly implicate Naseer, they referred to plots in the US and Europe and alluded to the arrest of members of the terror group in the UK. Legal experts told VICE News the burden of proof in terror conspiracy cases tends to fall on the accused, and despite objections, Naseer was unable to have the bin Laden documents thrown out.
During his closing argument Monday, Naseer told jurors there was no evidence directly linking him to the documents, and called the prosecution's narrative "fiction."
The verdict followed a morning of business-like exchanges between the thickly bearded Naseer and prosecutors as they went over testimony from the trial that the jury had requested to review. The testimony included that of Najdullah Zazi, a Queens man who pleaded guilty to plotting to bomb the New York City subway system. Both men allegedly traveled to Pakistan to receive training at al Qaeda camps.
Zazi testified that words used repeatedly by Naseer in emails to an alleged al Qaeda facilitator, including "wedding" and feminine names, were coded language similar to that which he had been instructed to use in place of references to terror attacks and bomb-making chemicals. Prosecutors said Zazi emailed the same al Qaeda agent as Naseer while planning his foiled attacked in New York.
In one email dated April 3, 2009, Naseer wrote, "We both parties have agreed to conduct the nikah (wedding) after the 15th and before the 20th of this month. I have confirmed the dates from them and they said you should be ready between those dates."
Security officials believe that window of time had been set for the Manchester attack. Naseer was apprehended five days after he sent the email.
Naseer, who set up email accounts using the names of women, said the odd language and the user names were no more than an attempt at "chasing women on the internet," and that he really did want to get married.
"He wasn't interested in the women of this world," rebutted Prosecutor Michael Canty. "He wanted the women in paradise."
In a bizarre twist, the British intelligence agents who trailed Naseer in Manchester appeared in the Brooklyn court wearing makeup and wigs to conceal their identities. Dearie instructed court illustrators to draw their faces generically, with no identifying features.
Yesterday, US prosecutors announced the extradition of another British suspect, Minh Quang Pham, who will face charges of providing material support to al Qaeda. Though not publicly stated, it is believed that in some cases British authorities prefer terror suspects be tried in the US, where guilty verdicts are seen as easier to attain and prison sentences are longer.
Follow Samuel Oakford on Twitter: @samueloakford