In an unusual legal move, when a New York City man goes on trial this spring for allegedly plotting to blow up the subway, it will be an anonymous jury that determines his fate.
U.S. District Court Judge Raymond Dearie sided with prosecutors who argued for an anonymous jury because the charges against Adis Medunjanin "are of the highest possible seriousness."
"Given the nature of the allegations, the involvement of al Qaeda, a foreign terrorist organization with global reach and a history of targeting civilians in New York City, and the virtual certainty of substantial media and public attention, a fair trial requires empanelling an anonymous jury," prosecutors said in court papers.
Medunjanin is accused of being a willing suicide bomber and partnering with convicted terrorist Najibullah Zazi and others to detonate homemade explosives in the subway system in September 2009.
In the case of an anonymous jury, any identifying information for the jurors is withheld from the public and they are only referred to by an assigned number -- a rare but not unheard of judicial move in sensitive, high-profile cases.
Court records say Medunjanin traveled to Pakistan "with the goal of joining the Taliban and fighting violent jihad against the United States and coalition troops in Afghanistan." Instead, court records say, Medunjanin returned to the U.S. intent on conducting a suicide attack.
Zazi and co-defendant Zarein Ahmedzay pleaded guilty to terrorism charges and are expected to testify against Medunjanin, their one time high school friend, at trial, which is scheduled to begin in April in Brooklyn.
"One need not conjure up worst-case scenarios to observe that even the mere possibility that the defendant's co-conspirators in al Qaeda, or their sympathizers, might threaten the judicial process in this case is a valid concern," said Assistant U.S. Attorney David Bitkower.
Defense attorneys called the prosecution argument "inadequate" and said there was no compelling reason to seek an anonymous jury.
"Here, the government does nothing more than invoke the specter of al Qaeda and terrorism as a justification for the extreme steps of empanelling and partially sequestering an anonymous jury," attorney Robert Gottlieb said.
Judge Dearie did not immediately decide whether to also order U.S. marshals to escort jurors between their homes and the courthouse.