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Dramatic and bizarre US trial of 'Manchester bomb plotter' nears climax

Abid Naseer is accused of plotting to blow up Manchester's Arndale shopping centre.

Over the past fortnight, the jurors in Brooklyn's federal district courthouse have watched a most unusual trial unfold.

For a start, the case in question has little to do with the United States. The accused is a Pakistani citizen, charged with plotting a terror attack on British soil. And then there were the witnesses, some of whom have been unorthodox to say the least. Burly British secret agents took the stand wearing wigs and make-up to disguise their identities.

The court has been painted two contrasting pictures of the accused, Abid Naseer.

Is he, as the prosecution contend, a senior Al Qaeda operative, who plotted to massacre shoppers in a Manchester shopping mall?

Or is he, as he claimed in his own defence, an ordinary, innocent, peace loving young man who came to Britain in search of nothing more than an education and a wife?

Prosecutors believe Naseer was the leader of a terror cell in the North West of England. It's alleged the group planned to make a series of bombs from widely available ingredients like peroxide, flour and cooking oil.

A court sketch of Naseer during his trial. Credit: Reuters

The court heard their plan was to detonate their biggest device in a car bomb at Manchester's Arndale Centre on Easter weekend 2009. As terrified shoppers fled the scene, it's claimed, the group planned to hit them with smaller, secondary devices planted at the centre's exit doors.

It's a complex case, based, in large part, around emails Naseer is said to have sent to his Al Qaeda "handlers" in Pakistan.

The messages seem innocuous at first glance, talking at length about his pursuit of various women, he speaks of his fondness for them and his plans to marry. But the prosecutors allege this was code. The girls names, they said, referred to the different bombs the group were building and the "wedding" was the attack itself.

Naseer says this is nonsense. In a clinical closing address to the jurors, he argued that not one witness in the trial had linked him to a bomb plot or to Al Qaeda. There's not enough evidence, he argues, to back up the prosecution claims.

But the jurors must weigh that up against the prosecution's claims that Naseer's plot formed part of a three pronged international attack, it was timed to co-incide with strikes on the New York subway and a Danish newspaper.

Had it succeeded, they said, it would have been the organisation's biggest "spectacular" since 9/11.

Having heard two weeks of complex evidence, they must now decide whose version of events they believe.

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