NEW YORK – A Pakistani immigrant, angered by the war in Iraq and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, plotted to bomb one of the city's busiest subway stations in 2004 to teach America "a good lesson," a prosecutor said Monday at a federal conspiracy trial.
The defendant, Shahawar Matin Siraj, considered striking several potential targets including the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge before settling on the Herald Square subway station, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Harrison.
"In the summer of 2004, he could barely pass a bridge or subway station without planning to place a bomb there," Harrison said.
Defense attorney Martin Stolar told jurors his client was entrapped by an informant who had infiltrated a Brooklyn mosque.
The government "created a crime where none previously existed," Stolar said.
Siraj, 24, and alleged co-conspirator James Elshafay drew diagrams of the subway station before being arrested on Aug. 27, 2004, on the eve of the Republican National Convention. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said shortly after their arrests that the men never obtained explosives and had not been linked to known terrorist groups.
Elshafay was expected to testify for the government as part of a plea deal.
Prosecutors said another key witness would be the informant, who recorded Siraj ranting against Americans while allegedly planning an attack they said he hoped would inflict enough damage on the economy to force U.S. troops out of Iraq.
Stolar said Siraj had no interest in violence until the informant approached him with photos of prisoners being abused at Abu Ghraib and told him it was his duty as a Muslim to retaliate.
The informant — who was being paid $400 a month by the NYPD — also convinced Siraj the plot had the backing of a fictitious group called the Brotherhood.
The defendant "is not a great planner," the lawyer said. "He is a follower who was talked into it."
Stolar said Siraj's naivete and ambivalence about the plot is apparent on a videotape shot by a camera planted inside the informant's car. In the video, the lawyer said, his client tells the informant and Elshafay that before he can go forward, "I have to check with my mother."