The Al Qaeda bomb-maker who switched sides after plotting to blow up the NYC subway may soon walk free

popular
Najibullah Zazi (Associated Press/Ed Andrieski)

The man who plotted to bomb New York City's subway system and then switched sides to help investigators may be released from prison in the next few days.

Najibullah Zazi, a would-be terrorist trained by al Qaeda bomb-makers, pleaded guilty in 2010 to three charges associated with a plan to detonate explosive in the NYC subway. He was, according to CNN, charged with conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country and providing material support to a terrorist organization.

For his crimes, he was facing life in prison.


Over the past decade, though, Zazi has spent his time helping federal investigators. He has "provided critical intelligence and unique insight regarding al Qaeda and its members," court filings reportedly revealed. Prosecutors wrote that Zazi's "extraordinary assistance" has "directly contributed to the prosecution of numerous individuals."

On Thursday, Judge Raymond Dearie made the surprising decision to sentence him to only 10 years in prison, the majority of which has already been served. The judge called it an "unthinkable" second chance, adding, "If you wish to appeal this ruling, you should have your head examined."

Prior to the judge's ruling, Zazi told the court, "I am sorry for the harm that I caused. I am asking for forgiveness. I tried my best to correct a horrible mistake. I am not the same person," NBC reported.

Najibullah Zazi (Associated Press/Ed Andrieski)

Zazi was born in Afghanistan and raised in Pakistan until he moved to Queens in New York City with his family as a teenager. In 2008, he returned to Pakistan, where he was recruited by al Qaeda operatives and trained to make explosives.

Zazi came back to the U.S. in 2009 and began making preparations for a suicide bombing attack on the New York City subway system, but his plans were uncovered and he was arrested just a few days after the 9th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

After he was arrested in 2009, Zazi told reporters he had done no wrong, according to the New York Times.

Reflecting on his past actions in court, he said, "I find it almost hard to imagine what I was involved in in 2008 and 2009."

The judge reportedly repeatedly expressed skepticism of claims Zazi had denounced radical Islam and turned away from his past life before sentencing Zazi, but ultimately opted for leniency rather than sentencing the man to life in prison without parole.

Read more from Business Insider:

SEE ALSO: 17 Years After 9/11, Al Qaeda May Be Stronger Than Ever

WATCH NEXT: Al Qaeda Has A Women's Magazine?

The Defense Department just took a major step towards being able to transform a C-130 Hercules into a flying drone carrier.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's air-launched and recoverable X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle finally conducted a maiden flight in November 2019, Gremlin contractor Dynetics announced on Friday.

Read More
Photo: U.S. Army/Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery

The Department of Veterans Affairs' Inspector General pushed back against Secretary Robert Wilkie last week, after Wilkie called an allegation of sexual assault in a D.C. facility "unsubstantiated."

Read More
Photo illustration by Paul Szoldra

Navy Lt. Jonny Kim went viral last week when NASA announced that he and 10 other candidates (including six other service members) became the newest members of the agency's hallowed astronaut corps. A decorated Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kim in particular seems to have a penchant for achieving people's childhood dreams.

However, Kim shared with Task & Purpose that his motivation for living life the way he has stems not so much from starry-eyed ambition, but from the pain and loss he suffered both on the battlefields of Iraq and from childhood instability while growing up in Los Angeles. Kim tells his story in the following Q&A, which was lightly edited for length and clarity:

Read More

Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.

On April 11, 1966, Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger (played by Jeremy Irvine) responded to a call to evacuate casualties belonging to a company with the Army's 1st Infantry Division near Cam My during a deadly ambush, the result of a search and destroy mission dubbed Operation Abilene.

In the ensuing battle, the unit suffered more than 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached. Despite the dangers on the ground, Pitsenbarger refused to leave the soldiers trapped in the jungle and waved off the medevac chopper, choosing to fight, and ultimately die, alongside men he'd never met before that day.

Decades later, those men fought to see Pitsenbarger's Air Force Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On Dec. 8, 2000, they won, when Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the nation's highest decoration for valor.

The Last Full Measure painstakingly chronicles that long desperate struggle, and the details of the battle are told in flashbacks by the soldiers who survived the ambush, played by a star-studded cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.

After Operation Abilene, some of the men involved moved on with their lives, or tried to, and the film touches on the many ways they struggled with their grief, trauma, and in the case of some, feelings of guilt. For the characters in The Last Full Measure, seeing Pitsenbarger awarded the Medal of Honor might be the one decent thing they pull out of that war, remarks Jackson's character, Lt. Billy Takoda, one of the soldier's whose life Pitsenbarger saved.

There are a lot of threads to follow in The Last Full Measure, individual strands of a larger story that feel misplaced, redacted, or cut short — at times, violently. But this is not a criticism, quite the opposite in fact. This tangled web is part of the larger narrative at play as Scott Huffman, a fictitious modern-day Pentagon bureaucrat played by Sebastian Stan, tries to piece together what actually happened that fateful day so many years ago.

At the start, Huffman — the person who ultimately becomes Pitsenbarger's champion in Washington — wants nothing to do with the airman's story, the medal, or the Vietnam veterans who want to see his sacrifice recognized. For Huffman, it's a burdensome assignment, just one more box to check before he can move on to brighter and better career prospects. Not surprising then that Pentagon bureaucrats and Washington political operators are regarded with skepticism throughout the movie.

When Takoda first meets Huffman, the Army vet grills the overdressed and out-of-his-depth government flack about his intentions, calls him an FNG (fucking new guy) and tosses Huffman's recorder into the nearby river where he's fishing with his grandkids.

Sebastian Stan stars as Scott Huffman alongside Samuel Jackson as Billy Takoda in "The Last Full Measure."(IMDB)

As Huffman spends more time with the grunts who fought alongside Pitsenbarger, and the Air Force PJs who flew with him that day, he, and the audience, come to see their campaign, and their frustration over the lack of progress, in a different light.

In one of the movie's later moments, The Last Full Measure offers an explanation for why Pitsenbarger's award languished for so long. The theory? Pitsenbarger's Medal of Honor citation was downgraded to a service cross, not because his actions didn't meet the standard associated with the nation's highest award for valor, but because his rank didn't.

"The conjecture among the Mud Soldiers and Bien Hoa Eagles is that Pitsenbarger was passed over because he was enlisted," Robinson, who wrote and directed The Last Full Measure, told Task & Purpose.

"As for the events in the film, Pitsenbarger's upgrade was clearly ignored for decades and items had been lost — whether that was deliberate is up for discussion but we feel we captured the spirit of the issues at hand either way," he said. "Some of these questions are simply impossible to answer with 100% certainty as no one really knows."

The cynicism in The Last Full Measure is overt, but to be entirely honest, it feels warranted. While watching the film, I couldn't help but think back to recent stories of battlefield bravery, like that of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who ran into a burning Bradley three times in Iraq to pull out his wounded men — a feat of heroism that cost him his life, and inspired an ongoing campaign to see Cashe awarded the Medal of Honor.

There's no shortage of op-eds by current and former service members who see the military's awards process as slow and cumbersome at best, and biased or broken at worst, and it's refreshing to see that criticism reflected in a major war movie. And sure, like plenty of military dramas, The Last Full Measure has some sappy moments, but on the whole, it's a damn good film.

The Last Full Measure hits theaters on Jan. 24.

Protesters and militia fighters gather to condemn air strikes on bases belonging to Hashd al-Shaabi (paramilitary forces), outside the main gate of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq December 31, 2019. (Reuters/Thaier al-Sudani)

With ISIS trying to reorganize itself into an insurgency, most attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq are being carried out by Shiite militias, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.

"In the time that I have been in Iraq, we've taken a couple of casualties from ISIS fighting on the ground, but most of the attacks have come from those Shia militia groups, who are launching rockets at our bases and frankly just trying to kill someone to make a point," Grynkewich said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

Read More