London Plot - N.Y.C. Plotter
by Stephen Schwartz
The testimony of "turned" al Qaeda member Mohammed Junaid Babar was critical in Monday's terror convictions in London. But New Yorkers might want to focus on how Babar used the city as his headquarters while supporting terror on three continents.
After all, in the London trial, he admitted to also plotting to blow up Times Square.
Jawad Akbar, Salahuddin Amin, Anthony Garcia, Omar Khyam and Waheed Mahmoud were all sentenced to life imprisonment for planning to explode a giant fertilizer bomb of the type set off in Oklahoma City in 1995. They were also linked to the horrific London subway bombings of July 7, 2005. Babar was another member of what's been described as a "British-Canadian gang." He is scheduled to testify in the coming trial of another conspirator, Mohammed Momin Khawaja, in Canada.
Pakistan-born, U.S.-raised Babar was arrested in the city in 2004, while living in Queens.
The FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force had been following a few thin leads about terrorist surveillance of the New York Stock Exchange, a Newark insurance building and (in Washington) the World Bank and International Monetary Fund offices. Nosing around, they came across Babar's name - then found he'd traveled to Pakistan, and decided to bring him in.
They nabbed him on the way to a Long Island school for taxi drivers. It seems that being picked up and questioned was enough to break him; he secretly pleaded guilty to several crimes in Pakistan - providing money and military supplies to an al Qaeda official, helping set up a terror training camp and plotting to assassinate President Pervez Musharraf - and British and Pakistani officials cooperated in tracking down the network to which he belonged.
He faces a 70-year sentence in the United States - or shorter prison time, and placement in the Witness Protection Program.
Babar had gone to Pakistan soon after 9/11 with the explicit aim of joining the jihad in Afghanistan and killing his fellow Americans. In a taped interview from the time, he said, "When the American troops enter, we will kill them in Afghanistan, there is no negotiation. When they come with the mindset to kill my Muslim brothers and sisters, I will do the same. I will kill every American soldier I can in Pakistan."
He still feels that way. Asked on the stand in the London trial if he stood by his 2001 statements, he answered, "Yes." His turn against his co-conspirators, in other words, came only from a desire for a lowered sentence and the chance to escape the United States with his family.
Babar's case yields numerous lessons:
Finally, realize that Babar was nabbed because the U.S. authorities were willing to patiently pursue the kinds of vague-seeming tips and slender information that critics of the War on Terror routinely dismiss. In anti-terrorism as in other crime-fighting efforts, the smallest clue may end up providing the biggest break.