NEW YORK (AP) -- A former airport shuttle driver accused of buying beauty supplies to make bombs for an attack on New York City subways pleaded guilty Monday, admitting he agreed to conduct an al-Qaida-led "martyrdom plan" because of U.S. involvement in his native Afghanistan.
Najibullah Zazi told a judge the terror network recruited him to be a suicide bomber in New York, where he went to high school and once worked a coffee car just blocks from the World Trade Center site.
"I would sacrifice myself to bring attention to what the U.S. military was doing to civilians in Afghanistan," Zazi said in court.
The Associated Press learned earlier this month that the jailed Zazi had recently volunteered information about the bomb plot in the first step toward a plea deal. His cooperation suggests prosecutors hope to expand the case and bring charges against other suspects in one of the most serious terrorism threats in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the terror investigation is ongoing.
Zazi, 25, pleaded guilty to conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiring to commit murder in a foreign country and providing material support for a terrorist organization. He faces a life prison sentence without parole at a sentencing in June.
Zazi said in court he went to Pakistan in 2008 to join the Taliban and fight against the U.S. military but was recruited by the terrorist network and went into a training camp in Warziristan, a region of Pakistan where al-Qaida is known to operate. Zazi said he received weapons training at the camp and later learned about explosives.
Zazi also said in court that he had been in contact with an al-Qaida leader while in Pakistan but did not identify the person.
"We were recruited by al-Qaida ... to go the United States in a martyrdom plan," he said.
The Pakistan Embassy in Washington declined to comment on Zazi's case.
Zazi admitted building homemade explosives with beauty supplies purchased in the Denver suburbs and cooked up in a Colorado hotel room. He then drove the materials to New York just before the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
While entering the city, he was stopped by police for a routine traffic violation on the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey and New York. Suspicious police allowed him to go free but kept a close watch on his movements.
Days later, authorities raided several Queens apartments, including a friend's home where Zazi had stayed.
Asked by federal Judge Raymond J. Dearie if he had been willing to be a suicide bomber, Zazi said, "Yes, your honor."
He said the terrorism plot was aimed at the city subway system but did not name a specific target.
A law enforcement official familiar with the case told the AP that Zazi was spooked by the traffic stop and flushed the explosive materials down the toilet after arriving in New York.
One of the people familiar with the investigation said that Zazi told prosecutors that he made roughly two pounds of a powerful and highly unstable explosive called triacetone triperoxide, or TATP.
The same explosive was used by would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid in 2001 and the terrorists who carried out the London bombings in 2005 that killed 52 people.
In those instances, TATP was not the main charge; it was the detonator. Experts have said the TATP in the Zazi case was probably going to be just the detonator.
One of the people familiar with the Zazi case told the AP that Zazi decided to cooperate after being warned that his mother could face criminal immigration charges. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is in progress.
After Monday's hearing, Zazi's attorney, William Stampur, would only say: "The plea speaks for itself."
The 10-page plea agreement is sealed.
Others charged in the terror case include Zazi's father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, who was accused this month of trying to get rid of chemicals and other evidence.
After initially demanding that he be jailed in Brooklyn without bail, prosecutors agreed to a deal on Feb. 17 releasing him on $50,000 bond and allowing him to return to his home in suburban Denver.
By contrast, bond for a Queens imam charged with lying to the FBI about phone contact with Zazi when Zazi was in New York was set at $1.5 million. A friend of Zazi's, New York cab driver Zarein Ahmedzay, was jailed without bail on a similar lying charge.
Authorities say Ahmedzay and another former high school classmate of Zazi's, Adis Medunjanin, traveled to Pakistan with Zazi in 2008. Medunjanin has pleaded not guilty to charges he conspired to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and remains jailed.
Officials earlier confirmed reports week that Zazi's uncle had been arraigned on a felony count in secret - a sign that he also could be cooperating.
Associated Press writers Devlin Barrett in Washington and Larry Neumeister in New York contributed to this report.