Jurors in Brooklyn heard closing arguments Monday in the terrorism trial of Abid Naseer, a Pakistani man accused of plotting to blow up a Manchester shopping center in 2009 as part of a wide-ranging al Qaeda conspiracy to attack Western targets.
Prosecutor Zainab Ahmad said Naseer used coded language, including feminine names and references to a “wedding,” in emails that allegedly discussed bomb-making materials and plans to carry out the attack.
Naseer, who wears a thick beard and has represented himself throughout the trial, maintained his emails were part of a naive effort of “chasing women on the internet,” and that he did in fact plan to get married.
The trial included evidence purportedly seized by US Navy SEALs during the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Though the captured al Qaeda documents presented to the court didn’t name Naseer, they did make reference to “the arrest of several individuals in Britain.”
Naseer, 28, was living in northern England on a student visa when he was arrested along with 11 other young Pakistani men. British authorities alleged they were members of a UK al Qaeda cell, and part of a larger conspiracy to attack targets in Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the New York City subway system.
Elsewhere in the documents, the purported al Qaeda authors wrote that “the impact on Americans from a strike inside America cannot be compared with hitting them outside the country.”
Naseer allegedly masterminded a plot to attack the Arndale shopping center in Manchester with a car bomb. At the time of their arrest, he and others had purchased large quantities of cooking oil and flour — which can be highly combustible — but not more sophisticated bomb-making ingredients.
British prosecutors declined to prosecute the men, two of whom were undercover agents, according to the Telegraph. The remaining conspirators, save for Naseer and one other man, were returned to Pakistan. In 2013, American authorities successfully extradited Naseer to face charges in the US.
Ahmad said if the alleged attack hadn’t been foiled, it would have resulted in “glass shattering through the city center, piercing the hearts of Easter shoppers.”
Earlier, British intelligence agents that tracked Naseer in the UK appeared in court as witnesses for the prosecution. The agents wore wigs while they testified to disguise their identities, and Judge Raymond Dearie instructed court illustrators to obscure their faces in drawings.
Prosecutors allege that Naseer trained at an al Qaeda camp in Pakistan and shared email accounts with three Queens men who were charged with plotting to detonate bombs on the New York City subway. One of the men, Najibullah Zazi, had already pleaded guilty to the subway plot and testified against Naseer.
Naseer, who somewhat perplexingly spent much of his closing argument reading from the testimony of trial witnesses, called the prosecution’s case “fiction,” and said “there was no direct connection” to anything found in bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad.
“Don’t let them fool you,” he told jurors.
Prosecutors said the paucity of direct links to specific names and places were hallmarks of al Qaeda’s field operations. Ahmad claimed codes used by Naseer, such as the female names Huma and Nadia, in fact represented hydrogen peroxide and nitrate. In one message, Naseer called Huma “crystal clear,” a perhaps not-so-subtle reference to hydrogen peroxide, a common chemical compound that can be used in bombs.
Naseer, like others in the larger alleged plot, was also accused of using female identities to open email accounts in order to communicate with an al Qaeda liaison. In one email, Naseer wrote he was planning a large wedding between April 15 and April 20, 2009. In his testimony, Zazi said al Qaeda instructed him and other plotters to use similar language.
Naseer said he had no idea who he was talking to at the time and blamed his poor English — despite the fact that he travelled to the UK for a degree in English — for the suspicious nature of the emails.
Loretta Lynch, the US Attorney for Eastern New York, who brought the case against Naseer and has since been nominated for Attorney General, was present during the prosecution’s closing argument.
Jurors are expected to begin deliberations Tuesday and a verdict could arrive sometime this week. Naseer faces up to life in prison if convicted on all charges.