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Pakistani Loner Convicted in NYC Bomb Plot

By TOM HAYS
The Associated Press
Thursday, May 25, 2006; 6:41 AM

NEW YORK -- It was June 2004 when Shahawar Matin Siraj reached the end of his rope.

Inside the Islamic bookstore where he worked, Siraj unwittingly recounted for a paid police informant rumors among radicals that U.S. soldiers were sexually abusing Iraqi girls.

"That was enough for me," the Pakistani immigrant said in one of a series of secretly recorded conversations played at a trial in federal court. "I'm ready to do anything."

What Siraj settled on doing was bombing one of Manhattan's busiest subway stations _ a scheme that resulted in his conviction Wednesday on federal conspiracy charges.

A jury in Brooklyn deliberated two days and reached the verdict in a case that cast a spotlight on the New York Police Department's efforts to monitor radical Muslims after the Sept. 11 attacks. Siraj faces up to life in prison at sentencing Oct. 5, although the term could be much shorter under sentencing guidelines.

The 23-year-old high school dropout _ who had rejected a plea deal that would have put him behind bars for 10 years _ listened to the verdict with downcast eyes.

Afterward, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly issued a statement hailing the outcome as "an important milestone in safeguarding New York against terrorist plotters whether homegrown or foreign."

Siraj's attorney, Martin Stolar, called such claims misleading.

"This is not somebody who is a terrorist," he told reporters outside court. "What they should worry about are sleeper cells, not Matin Siraj."

The defense had sought to portray Siraj as an impressionable simpleton _ his own lawyer referred to him as "not the brightest bulb in the chandelier" _ who was lured into a phony plot.

Prosecutors argued Siraj was both the initiator and mastermind of a serious threat.

Siraj and another man suspected in the plot, James Elshafay, were arrested on the eve of the 2004 Republican National Convention carrying crude diagrams of their target _ the subway station in Herald Square, a dense shopping district that includes Macy's flagship department store.

Elshafay immediately agreed to cooperate with the government.

Authorities said Siraj had no affiliation with known terrorist organizations. Instead, he was a relative loner whose anti-American rants caught the attention of the informant and an undercover police officer, both of whom the NYPD assigned to identify and track Islamic extremists in the city's Muslim neighborhoods following the 2001 attacks.

© 2006 The Associated Press