NEW YORK - An imam linked to the suspects in an aborted suicide bomb plot against New York City pleaded guilty yesterday to lying to the FBI, a deal sparing him serious jail time but forcing him to leave the country.
A tearful Ahmad Afzali told a judge in federal court in Brooklyn that he had wanted to help authorities in the investigation of the threat, but lied under grilling by the FBI about his phone conversations with admitted Al Qaeda associate Najibullah Zazi.
“In doing so, I failed to live up to my obligation to this country, my community, my family, and my religion,’’ he said. “I am truly sorry.’’
Under the plea deal, Afzali faces up to six months behind bars at sentencing April 8. It also requires the Afghanistan-born defendant to leave the country within 90 days after completing the sentence or face deportation.
“I just signed my death sentence,’’ he told reporters afterward.
Afzali, 39, was arrested in September as federal authorities scrambled to thwart a plot by Zazi, a Colorado airport van driver who pleaded guilty last week to terrorism charges. Zazi admitted that he tested bomb-making materials in a Denver suburb before traveling by car to New York intending to attack the subway system to avenge US involvement in Afghanistan.
After the New York Police Department was alerted to the possible threat, detectives reached out to Afzali to gather information about Zazi and two other men the imam knew from a Queens mosque, Adis Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay. Authorities say the former high school classmates traveled together in 2008 to Pakistan, where Zazi received explosives training.
Medunjanin and Ahmedzay have pleaded not guilty.