NEW YORK – Jurors at the trial of a Pakistani immigrant accused of plotting to blow up a busy subway station were asked to decide who the foiled scheme's true mastermind was: the defendant or a paid informant wearing a wire.
Shahawar Matin Siraj, 23, was arrested on the eve of the 2004 Republican National Convention on charges he planned to attack a subway station in Herald Square, the dense Manhattan shopping district that includes Macy's flagship department store.
In hours of recordings played at his trial, "you heard the defendant carefully, deliberately and matter-of-factly plan bombing attack after bombing attack without fear or remorse," prosecutor Marshall Miller told the jurors Monday.
Defense attorney Martin Stolar countered by portraying Siraj as an impressionable dupe who was lured into a phony plot by a crafty informant posing as an accomplice. He accused the informant, Osama Eldawoody, of entrapping his client by taking him under his wing and convincing him it was his duty as a Muslim to wage a holy war against American oppressors.
"Who's in charge here? It's Eldawoody," Stolar said in his closing argument. "He's the teacher. He's the mentor. He's the leader."
Taking the witness stand in his own defense last week, Siraj testified that he never had a violent thought before he met the informant, an Egyptian who inflamed his rage toward the United States by showing him photos of prisoners being abused at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Miller argued that Siraj received little encouragement from the informant while hatching a plot to inflict severe economic damage on America. He allegedly considered attacking bridges and Times Square before deciding the Herald Square station was the best target.
"It was the defendant who took the initiative and led the way," he said.
But Siraj, his lawyer said, was merely trying to impress the informant. "It is clear that (Siraj) is seeking to get approval — he's desperate for approval," Stoler said.
The jury also heard testimony from a Bangladeshi-born undercover officer, who like the informant met Siraj at an Islamic bookstore while infiltrating a Muslim neighborhood in Brooklyn as part of the police response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Both described becoming suspicious after hearing the defendant's anti-American rants.
During one conversation, Siraj "complimented" Usama bin Laden, the officer testified.
"He said he was a talented brother and a great planner and that he hoped bin Laden planned something big for America," said the officer, who testified under an alias because he is still involved in investigations.
Deliberations were to begin Tuesday. If convicted of conspiracy, Siraj could face up to 20 years in prison.