By Tom Hays
NEW YORK — A judge gave federal prosecutors until a week from Wednesday to give up the name of a witness they say was recruited for a chilling, al-Qaida-sanctioned plot for suicide bombers to attack the New York City subways with explosives made from beauty supplies.
Lawyers for alleged plotter Adis Madunjanin had demanded to know the identity of the man, referred to only as John Doe in court papers, before Madunjanin goes to trial later this year.
At a pretrial hearing on in Brooklyn federal court in Wednesday, prosecutors initially resisted identifying the government witness — “Mr. John Doe” one called him — citing concerns about his safety. But U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie said Madunjanin’s lawyers had a right to know the name.
“They have to prepare a defense,” the judge said.
However, the judge also agreed to allow the government to provide the name under a protective order barring the defense from disclosing it to the public.
In a revised indictment filed last week in Brooklyn, Medunjanin was hit with a new allegation that he — along with former high school classmates from Queens, Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay — tried to recruit John Doe to travel to Pakistan “to wage violent jihad.”
It was the first time the government had linked a fourth person in the U.S. for what prosecutors call three “coordinated suicide bombing attacks” on Manhattan subway lines.
Medunjanin, 27, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to the new indictment, which added the charge of use of a destructive device.
He had previously pleaded not guilty to conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction, providing material support to a terrorist organization and other counts.
Prosecutors allege that Medunjanin, Zazi and Ahmedzay tried to recruit the fourth man before the three went to Afghanistan in 2008 to join the Taliban and fight U.S. soldiers.
The three fell under tutelage of al-Qaida operatives, who gave them weapons training in their Pakistan camp and asked them to become suicide bombers, authorities say.
After returning, Zazi, a former Denver airport shuttle driver, cooked up explosives with beauty supplies and set out for New York City around the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
After becoming suspicious he was being watched by law enforcement, he abandoned the plan and returned to Colorado.
Zazi and Ahmedzay have since admitted in guilty pleas that they wanted to avenge U.S. aggression in the Arab world by becoming martyrs.
Both could testify against Medunjanin at a trial expected to begin in mid-April.