WASHINGTON — Police in Britain have extradited a terror suspect to the United States to face charges that he took part in an alleged al-Qaida plot to detonate explosives aboard the New York City subway system.
British authorities handed over Abid Naseer, 26, to U.S. authorities on Thursday.
Prosecutors want Naseer to stand trial in New York for his alleged role in a terror campaign that would have also struck targets in Britain and Norway.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have said 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., Naseer would face a maximum penalty of life in prison. At the Justice Department, spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment.
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 named him as a co-defendant with Adis Medunjanin.
In January 2011, a British judge approved Naseer’s extradition. The judge acknowledged there was a “very real risk” Naseer would be tortured if the U.S. ultimately returned him to Pakistan but said he believed the U.S. justice system would not ignore that concern.
Naseer’s lawyer had argued that the U.S. would have fewer inhibitions about returning him to Pakistan.
U.S. authorities allege Medunjanin and former high school friends Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay — all three attended Flushing High School in Queens — 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.
At Medunjanin’s trial last year, Zazi and Ahmedzay, who testified as part of a plea deal, told jurors that the scheme was designed to avenge the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Medunjanin was sentenced to life in prison.