The Zazi plot thickens…


The arrest of a fourth suspect in Pakistan in connection with the foiled New York City terror plot has revealed some unsettling details about Najibullah Zazi’s plan to attack the city’s transit system. Authorities have been tight-lipped about the Pakistani man who, according to officials, “may not ultimately be charged in connection with the plot,” though he is to be extradited to the US soon. Given that authorities have already gained the cooperation of Zazi, the would-be lead bomber, more details are expected to emerge once the fourth suspect has been questioned.

Since February, when Najibullah Zazi pled guilty to the charges of conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction and supporting al Qaeda (and also later admitted to having received terrorist training in Pakistan as recently as 2008), officials have been able to obtain more information about the specific details of the plot. From the New York Daily News, which broke the story:

Zazi and his two Queens friends allegedly planned to strap explosives to their bodies and split up, heading for the Grand Central and Times Square stations – the two busiest subway stations in New York City.

They would board trains on the 1, 2, 3 and 6 lines at rush hour and planned to position themselves in the middle of the packed trains to ensure the maximum carnage when they blew themselves up, sources said.

The attack was to take place on Sept. 14, 15 or 16 – as soon as the bombs had been assembled – with Sept 14 the most likely date, sources said.

According to the New York Daily News report, Zazi has also confessed further details about the training he received in Pakistan:

There they were recruited by Al Qaeda for the Manhattan “martyrdom” mission.

They received military training at a terror camp in the Waziristan region, and Zazi was taken aside and given special bomb-making training because of his knowledge of the subway system.

The planned suicide attack, to be carried out by Zazi and co-conspirators Adis Medunajin and Zarein Ahmedzay (who have pled not guilty), was very similar to the 2005 London transit attacks, in which four suicide bombers killed 52 commuters and wounded hundreds more.

In the wake of the recent Moscow transit suicide bombings carried out by the al Qaeda-affiliated Caucasus Emirate that killed 39 people, these latest developments in the Zazi case heighten security fears in major cities, reigniting the threat of terror attacks on soft targets such as transit systems.

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  • Bing says:

    Explains the extra security in the NYC train system

  • DANNY says:

    If this style attack is the best they have, we really don’t have much to worry about. My fear is what life will be like when iran gets the bomb and chooses to stop the flow of oil from Saudi. Then life will change… Hell, we as individuals can get killed in a car or walking down the sidewalk any day. It’s how the world will react when push comes to shove, when nobody has jobs or food I fear. Hold on to your Butts.

  • kp says:

    In making comparisons to the train bombings in London 2005 and Madrid 2004 (though that attack wasn’t suicide bombers but bombs left on trains) I notice there are fewer bombers involved in recent plans.

    The Madrid attack had 13 backpack bombs left in four trains of which 10 exploded.

    The London attack also involved two waves from two independent teams (fortunately the lead on the second team didn’t get the math right so the main charges failed). In each case there was four persons per team with one bomb each.

    Note how the dead:bomb ratio is about the average for suicide bombing attacks as calculated by the CTC: around 11.


    This attack had three bombers and apparently 3 bombs. So perhaps 30 dead or so if it succeeded (more if they got the placement right). And certainly more impact for succeeding.

    The recent Moscow attack had two bombers (who were ferried from Dagestan) who killed 40 people (above average: I presume using military explosives). The attempted Christmas Day airline had one bomber and nobody killed.

    I think this gives the lie to some recent comments about AQ wanting highly coordinated spectaculars (e.g. AQ and nuclear or biological weapons) and so not engaging in “smaller” attacks. They want both but they’re can seem to execute them. They seem to be worried about the size of the group and the chance of the attack being disrupted (like the Zazi attack). They seem to be limited by the availability of reliable “clean skins”. So they’re trying to do “something” with smaller teams. And so far not succeeding.

  • T Ruth says:

    so far not succeeding, but wait till the IND (improvised nuclear device) comes into play. Small teams will work that very well….

  • kp says:

    AQ isn’t going to build a nuclear weapon itself. That is much harder than a lot of the Tom Clancy-esque newspaper reports would have you believe. Especially when you don’t have territory you can control without interruption to set up research labs and engineering facilities. Building the explosive lensing and neutron initiator are non-trivial problems. Then getting hold of fissionable material is a big big problem too. Even in this world of less than well secured fissile material. Then you have to build AND test the device (no point having it fail to work and a problem if you can only get enough fissile material for one bomb).

    The one bomb type they might get to work is a gun-type HEU weapon (like the Hiroshima or South African A-bombs) needing perhaps 3 critical masses of neutron-clean U235 (a lot of material). It’s still non-trivial to build one (the gun has to be fast). One way to defeat this is to make sure that there’s enough neutron emitters in the U235 so that (fast) spherical implosion is the only method that will work to assemble the bomb with the slow gun assembly pre-detonating. I don’t know if U235 enrichers do this. Perhaps still a win for AQ but more of a big dirty bomb than a real nuke.

    If AQ do detonate a device it will be much more likely because they have been given one by a nuclear state or they steal one. That’s not going to happen unless they take over Pakistan .. then Pakistan is doomed because we will fingerprint the bombs residue (from its fission/bomb components) and will be able to say who provided the bomb. Nukes are just not very good weapons for states to use either directly or indirectly against a nuclear state.

    The other problem about stealing a bomb (presuabley a Special Atomic Demolition Munitions or suitcase nuke) is that the bomb designs probably have PAL (Permissive Action Links) built into them. Without the correct permission code the bombs conventional explosive will go bang (with the wrong timing, without the nuetron initiator being fired and without the deuterium/tritium boost mix being pumped into the core) so the device won’t go critical but will blow itself apart. Its not certain about the Soviet devices but I suspect they have something similar.

    PDF of a Powerpoint talk giving an Overview of PALs by Steve Bellovin (ex-Bell Labs and well known in computer security) //




    As you can see form the links there is a lot of fiction mixed in with the fact about SADMs.


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