Mohammed Wali Zazi, Father Of NYC Subway Bomb Plotter, Sentenced To 4 1/2 Years In Prison
NEW YORK -- The father of an admitted terrorist was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison Friday after he was convicted of destroying evidence and lying to investigators to cover up his son's plot to attack the New York City subways in 2009 as one of a trio of suicide bombers.
Mohammed Wali Zazi, 56, could have faced up to 40 years, though his attorneys had argued for probation because they said he was simply trying to protect his family and had no idea what his son was up to.
His son, Najibullah Zazi, has admitted that he returned from a trip to Pakistan to his family's Denver-area home to practice concocting homemade bombs using chemicals extracted from common beauty supplies. He then drove to New York City in September 2009 with plans to attack the subway system in a "martyrdom operation" before he learned he was being watched by the FBI and fled back to Colorado. The plot was sanctioned by al-Qaida, but thwarted by authorities.
The elder Zazi was found guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of justice at a trial detailing the unraveling of a working-class family of Afghan-Americans amid chilling allegations of homegrown terror. He clawed his way to a fairly comfortable life in the U.S., hoping to give his children what he didn't experience: A life without struggle.
And he refused to believe, even at his sentencing, that his son was plotting an attack. He gave a long statement in Pashto through an interpreter saying his family was victimized.
"I believe that my son was pressured," he said. "I don't think that he was involved in any wrongdoing. I am sorry. The last three years my family ... went through very difficult times."
He said he feared his wife would not be able to support their children without him, she was ill and the family may have to return to Afghanistan.
"I ask forgiveness from all of you," he said. "I had a trial in here, and the jury convicted me, but the jury did not hear everything."
U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson said he understood why Zazi did what he did. "What wouldn't a parent do for a child?" he asked. But Gleeson said the lies hindered a critical, fast-moving terror investigation, and Zazi needed to be punished.
"When someone is going to bomb the New York City subway system, every lie matters," he said.
Following his trial in July, Zazi, who is a U.S. citizen, admitted that he forged immigration forms on behalf of a nephew who ended up testifying against him. He said he instructed a lawyer to fill out the forms to say the nephew was his son so that he could enter the United States more easily. Gleeson sentenced him to six months on that plea.
The nephew and Zazi's brother-in-law both testified at the trial how the FBI and immigration agents put pressure on the family as soon as the plot unraveled. Both had pleaded guilty and agreed to become government witnesses to stave off stiff prison terms.
When it became clear Najibullah Zazi was a suspect and family members were getting grand jury subpoenas, the cousin said "Uncle Wali" recruited him to get rid of plastic containers of peroxide and other evidence. The family agreed to code name the chemicals "medicine" in case the FBI was eavesdropping, he said. He also claimed his uncle told them not to say anything if they were asked questions.
Najibullah Zazi, who pleaded guilty to federal terrorism charges and is awaiting sentencing, faces life in prison.
One of Zazi's former high school classmates also has admitted in a guilty plea that they wanted to avenge U.S. aggression in the Arab world by becoming martyrs. Both could testify against a third former classmate at a trial expected to begin in mid-April.
The elder Zazi's attorney, Deborah Colson, portrayed him as a kind, selfless man whose major weakness was that he put his family before himself. He cared for his 10 brothers and sisters in Afghanistan at a young age, eventually moving to the U.S. and working as a taxi driver for years. His friends and family wrote in to give examples of his kindness, like helping the homeless. One family member was in court for the sentencing, but wouldn't give his name.
He became a U.S. citizen on Oct. 23, 2007, one of the happiest days of his life, she said. "He was never politically minded but he fervently believed in the American dream."
Zazi was ignorant of the plans; Najibullah Zazi told prosecutors that his father didn't understand what his son was doing.
"He never believed that his son would do anything like that," Colson said.