NEW YORK – A man charged in an al-Qaida-sponsored plot to attack the New York City subway system pleaded not guilty Friday, keeping the case on track for a trial that would feature testimony from turncoat terrorists about the network's inner-workings.
No trial date has been set for Adis Medunjanin, who entered the plea during a brief appearance in federal court in Brooklyn. There's no indication that a plea deal is in the works, and his defense team — now numbering four lawyers — has vowed to fight the charges.
"No one should conclude anything about what really happened until there's a trial," lead attorney Robert Gottlieb said Friday outside court.
Medunjanin, 26, had previously pleaded not guilty to charges accusing him of seeking to join two former high school classmates from Queens, Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, in what prosecutors called three "coordinated suicide bombing attacks" on Manhattan subway lines. Zazi, a former Denver airport shuttle driver, and Ahmedzay have both admitted in guilty pleas that they wanted to avenge U.S. aggression in the Arab world by becoming martyrs.
A revised indictment against Medunjanin that was unsealed last year broadened the conspiracy to include high-ranking al-Qaida operative Adman Shukrijumah, and increased the potential for more evidence to emerge about how the terror network cultivates homegrown terrorism in the United States and elsewhere.
Prosecutors allege Shukrijumah had recruited the three men in 2008 to receive training in the lawless tribal region of Pakistan. It names him and three other al-Qaida figures as fugitive defendants in the case.
If Medunjanin's case reaches trial, Zazi and Ahmedzay would be in line to testify against him. Another possible witness is Bryant Neal Vinas, an American-born terrorist who received similar terror training and now is a government cooperator.
In a guilty plea last year, Vinas admitted giving al-Qaida "expert advice and assistance" about New York's transit system and acknowledged participating in a rocket-attack mission on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
In court Friday, Medunjanin's lawyer asked U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie whether at trial "there's going to be other defendants sitting at counsel's table." The judge refused to take up the matter.
The Associated Press reported Friday that Shukrijumah has taken over as chief of al-Qaida's global operations — a position once held by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The New York indictment links him to both the Manhattan plot and a similar never-executed scheme to attack subways in the United Kingdom.
After receiving al-Qaida training, Zazi cooked up explosives and set out for New York City around the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He was arrested after abandoning the plan and fleeing back to Colorado.