Man Sentenced for Role in Plot to Blow Up Subways

The cousin of a man who plotted to blow up the New York subways was sentenced to 40 months in prison on Friday for introducing his cousin to an imam connected with Al Qaeda and destroying evidence of his cousin’s involvement in the plot.

Amanullah Zazi, 25, whose cousin was the mastermind of what prosecutors called the most serious terrorism threat since the Sept. 11 attacks, faced up to 30 years in prison. But a federal judge said Mr. Zazi had not known about the plot; he only helped his cousin out of filial duty.

Mr. Zazi’s cousin, Najibullah Zazi, and two of his friends from his high school in Queens, Adis Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay, flew to Pakistan in 2008 planning to wage jihad by joining the Taliban in their fight against American troops. But they were unable to reach the front lines.

Amanullah Zazi, an Afghan citizen who was living in Pakistan at the time, volunteered to introduce his older cousin to a local imam. The imam later introduced the men to members of Al Qaeda.

The three Americans followed the Qaeda members to a terrorist training camp, where the Qaeda membership persuaded them to return to the United States to carry out an attack rather than join the fight against American troops. At the training camp, they learned to make bombs out of household chemicals and hatched the plot to bomb the subways.

The three friends from Queens returned to the United States to carry out the attacks, but they abandoned their plans days short of their target date in September 2009 when they learned they were being watched by law enforcement officials. Amanullah Zazi, who had moved to Colorado to live with his cousin’s family, destroyed his cousin’s bomb-making materials to prevent law enforcement officials from finding them.

A federal prosecutor, James Loonam, said in Federal District Court in Brooklyn that Amanullah Zazi spent his days drinking, smoking hashish and just hanging out, and volunteered to help his cousin out of devotion to his family. “He did not know the specifics of any plot,” Mr. Loonam said. “Najibullah Zazi lied to him.”

In 2010, Najibullah Zazi and Mr. Ahmedzay pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. Mr. Medunjanin was convicted after a trial and sentenced to life in prison.

Mr. Loonam said Amanullah Zazi, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct justice and aiding and abetting military training, also provided information that led to the arrest of Mr. Ahmedzay and testified for the government in a case against his uncle and Najibullah Zazi’s father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, who also destroyed evidence when law enforcement officials were encroaching. Mr. Loonam argued to the judge that Amanullah Zazi deserved leniency as a cooperating witness who had no direct knowledge of the crimes.

The judge, Raymond J. Dearie, said he struggled with how much time to give Mr. Zazi and consulted with his colleagues before meting out the sentence at the low end of the sentencing guidelines.

“This kind of battle makes strange bedfellows,” Judge Dearie said.

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