When the trial of reputed al-Qaida operative Abid Naseer begins this week, jurors are expected to hear an opening statement from the defendant himself, the latest terrorism suspect prepared to act as his own attorney in an American courtroom.
The Pakistani defendant’s decision to represent himself will be one twist in a trial certain to have others, including the first use of evidence seized during the Navy SEAL raid in 2011 that left Osama bin Laden dead and testimony from British secret agents who will wear wigs and makeup on the witness stand to conceal their identities. Opening statements are set for Tuesday.
Naseer, 28, was extradited in 2013 to New York City, where he pleaded not guilty in federal court in Brooklyn to charges he was part of an al-Qaida conspiracy in 2009 that included failed plots to bomb a shopping mall in Manchester, England, and subways in New York City. Two government witnesses expected to testify against Naseer — Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay — pleaded guilty in the subway plot.
Prosecutors claim that email account evidence shows all three men were under the direction of the same al-Qaida handler. They also say a document recovered during the bin Laden raid — now declassified — mentions Naseer and refers to the Manchester and New York schemes.
Other witnesses will include MI5 agents who conducted surveillance on Naseer while investigating the Manchester case. At a pretrial hearing, U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie approved the disguise request after prosecutors told him in court papers that the officers continue to work undercover on sensitive cases and “disclosure of their identities would pose a significant risk to their safety.”
The agents will testify using identification numbers rather than names and wearing wigs and light makeup, “neither of which will impair the defendant’s or the jury’s ability to view the witnesses’ facial expressions and assess their credibility and demeanor,” the papers added.