NEW YORK  - The high-profile trial began Monday of a man accused of being part of a New York trio that was only “days” away from perpetrating a bombing massacre in the city’s crowded subway. Federal prosecutor James Loonam opened the trial in Brooklyn by pointing across the courtroom at defendant Adis Medunjanin, 27, and calling him an Al-Qaeda “terrorist.” Loonam detailed how in September 2009 Medunjanin, along with two former high school friends and fellow Muslims, all of them outraged at the US war in Afghanistan, put final touches to a plan to bomb either the subway, Times Square, or another packed location.

“Three men were prepared to strap bombs to their bodies and walk into crowded New York subway cars that were filled with innocent people,” Loonam said. “These men came so close, within days of carrying out this attack, before they were stopped.”

Gesturing at Medunjanin, who wore a suit, the prosecutor said: “One of those Al-Qaeda terrorists is inside the courtroom right now.”

Medunjanin, a Bosnian whose family fled to the United States during the war with Serbia in the 1990s, is charged with nine terrorism-related counts.

He is accused of travelling to Pakistan in a failed attempt to join the Taliban to fight against US forces, entering the bomb plot on his return home, and finally trying to use his car to cause bloodshed in a desperate last act before his arrest.

He has pleaded not guilty and his lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, said Medunjanin was no terrorist - only a passionate Muslim who wanted to go to Afghanistan because he was outraged by the US drone bombing of civilians and abuses in US military prisons.

“The truth is Adis Medunjanin is not a terrorist. The truth is, in this case, the government with all its inflammatory and incendiary allegations, is just wrong,” Gottlieb said.

“Mr Medunjanin never planned to bomb the New York City subways, contrary to what the government has told you. Mr Medunjanin never joined any plan, as that term is defined in the law... to go to Afghanistan to kill members of the United States military.”

The other two men in the alleged plot, Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, pleaded guilty and are cooperating with prosecutors in hopes of getting a lighter sentence.

Ahmedzay was the first witness called by the prosecution to testify against his old friend. Zazi, described as the ringleader of the alleged plot, was due to take the stand Tuesday.

Medunjanin could face life in prison if found guilty on all counts.