UPDATE 1-New York man sentenced to life for subway suicide bomb plot

* Two co-conspirators to be sentenced in December and May

* Trio had traveled to Pakistan to contact al Qaeda

(Adds details from hearing, comment)

NEW YORK, Nov 16 (Reuters) - A Bosnian-born U.S. citizen was

sentenced to life in prison on Friday for his role in planning a

suicide bomb attack on New York City subways in 2009 at the

behest of senior al Qaeda operatives.

Adis Medunjanin, 28, was convicted in May by a federal jury

in Brooklyn on nine counts including conspiracy to use weapons

of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism

and providing material support to al Qaeda.

Prosecutors had urged U.S. District Judge John Gleeson to

give Medunjanin the maximum penalty of life in prison, saying in

a pre-sentencing court filing that he "committed a host of

heinous crimes aimed at killing and maiming his fellow American

citizens in order to alter and take revenge for American foreign

policy."

Medunjanin's accused co-conspirator Najibullah Zazi was

arrested in September 2009, just days before Medunjanin and a

third member of the plot, Zarein Ahmedzay, planned to carry out

what U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called "one of the most

serious terrorist threats" to the United States since the Sept.

11 attacks.

During the sentencing on Friday, a lawyer for Medunjanin,

Robert Gottlieb, described him as a bright young man with a

loving family who had fled to the U.S. from Bosnia when he was a

child. Members of his extended family sat quietly in the back of

the courtroom, some of them wiping away tears.

When asked if he would like to make a statement, Medunjanin,

recited several Koran verses in Arabic. He then delivered a

speech about the plight of Muslims and the poor across the

world, and denied having anything to do with the subway plot.

Gleeson said it was difficult to believe that three men who

went to high school in Queens, New York, could become pawns in

an al Qaeda plot.

"This was not a fringe character in our society," he said.

During Medunjanin's trial, prosecutors described how the

three made a plan to travel overseas with the intent of joining

up with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. They made it to

Pakistan, where they were introduced to an al Qaeda facilitator.

That facilitator took them to meet with senior al Qaeda

operatives, who provided them with military training and

persuaded them to return to the United States to carry out an

attack in New York City.

After their return, the three met to discuss their plans for

a suicide attack, and settled on a target: New York City

subways. Zazi began to assemble explosive devices at his

family's home in Colorado, and drove to New York City with the

materials in September 2009, prosecutors said. The plan was

aborted when Zazi and Ahmedzay became suspicious that they were

being monitored.

After federal agents searched Medunjanin's home in January

2010, Medunjanin got into his car and sped erratically across

the Whitestone Expressway in Queens, crashing his car into

another vehicle in what prosecutors described as a last-ditch

attempt to fulfill his suicide mission.

"Adis Medunjanin sought martyrdom for himself and death for

innocent New Yorkers as part of al Qaeda's plan to spread terror

within our shores," U.S. attorney Loretta Lynch said in a

statement.

Both Zazi and Ahmedzay pleaded guilty and testified against

Medunjanin during his trial. Zazi, 27, is scheduled to be

sentenced on Dec. 14, and Ahmedzay, also 27, will be sentenced

on May 10.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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