LONDON – A British court on Friday approved the extradition of a terror suspect wanted in the United States over an alleged al-Qaida plot to detonate explosives aboard the New York City subway system.
Judge Quentin Purdy ruled that Abid Naseer, 24, a native Pakistani, can be sent to the U.S. to stand trial in New York for his alleged role in a terror campaign that would have struck at targets in Britain, Norway and the United States.
Britain's home secretary now has the final decision about whether to endorse the extradition, but Naseer's lawyer, Ben Cooper, said his client will appeal Friday's decision.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn say they aim to prove that Naseer collected bomb ingredients, conducted reconnaissance and was in frequent contact with other al-Qaida operatives as part of a foiled New York plot and a second suspected plot to bomb a busy shopping area in the northern English city of Manchester.
If convicted in the U.S., he would face a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Naseer was one of 12 people arrested in a counterterrorism operation in April 2009, but all were subsequently released without charge. They were ordered to leave Britain, but Naseer escaped deportation to Pakistan after a judge ruled it was likely he would be mistreated if he were sent home.
Naseer was re-arrested in July 2010 at the request of the prosecutors in Brooklyn, where a federal indictment names him as a co-defendant of Adis Medunjanin.
U.S. authorities allege Medunjanin and former high school friends Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay traveled to Pakistan in 2008 to seek terror training from al-Qaida.
Zazi, an airport van driver from Colorado, admitted in a guilty plea that once back from Pakistan he tested peroxide-based explosive materials in a makeshift lab in Denver in the fall of 2009 before traveling by car to New York to carry out the scheme.
Authorities say Medunjanin and Ahmedzay agreed to join Zazi in three coordinated suicide bombings on Manhattan subway lines during rush hour near the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks — what Zazi called a "martyrdom operation."
The plot was disrupted when police stopped Zazi's car as it entered New York.
Like Zazi, Ahmedzay has pleaded guilty and is cooperating. Medunjanin is fighting the charges.
Naseer's lawyer had argued that the U.S. would have fewer inhibitions about returning him to Pakistan. Judge Purdy acknowledged there is a "very real risk" Naseer would be tortured if he ever returned home, but said he believed the U.S. justice system would not ignore that concern.
On Friday, Naseer wore a brown shirt and stroked his beard as the judge read out the ruling, but otherwise he showed no reaction. Asked whether he understood that he could appeal the judgment, he said: "Yes sir. Thank you."
Associated Press Writer Tom Hays in New York contributed to this report.