A Denver airport shuttle bus driver at the center of a massive counterterrorism probe has been indicted in Brooklyn on charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, while the Queens imam who allegedly tipped him off to the federal investigation was freed on bail, officials said.|
Najibullah Zazi, an Afghanistan-born immigrant and former resident of Queens, was previously charged with lying to the government during a criminal investigation. The additional charges, which specify Zazi may have been planning to use a bomb in the plot, were unsealed today in New York's Eastern District Court.
Zazi had been buying chemicals used to make triacetone triperoxide (TATP), the explosive used in the 2005 London train bombings and by foiled shoe bomber Richard Reid in 2001, according to a government detention motion.
Imam Ahmad Afzali Freed on Bail
While in Colorado, Zazi and unidentified others bought "unusually large quantities" this summer of common household products used to make TATP -- hydrogen peroxide and acetone, an ingredient in nail polish remover, the document said.
At one store a sales clerk told investigators he remembered a man say he needed beauty projects because he had a "lot of girlfriends," the Denver Post reported.
Zazi apparently tried to heat the components inside an Aurora, Colo., hotel room on Aug. 28, the same day he bought a dozen 32-ounce bottles of "Ms K Liquid 40 Volume" a hydrogen peroxide based product, the document suggests.
On Sept. 6 and 7, just days before arriving in New York City, he checked into the same hotel room where FBI tests later found acetone residue in the vent above the hotel room's stove, according to the detention memo.
On those days, he had urgent communications with another person "seeking to correct mixtures of ingredients to make explosives," the document said.
He had also searched on the Internet for home improvement stores in Flushing that sold a third component of TATP -- muriactic acid, prosecutors said.
“The indictment alleges that Najibullah Zazi conspired with others to use explosive devices against persons or property in the United States,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “We are investigating a wide range of leads related to this alleged conspiracy, and we will continue to work around the clock to ensure that anyone involved is brought to justice. We believe any imminent threat arising from this case has been disrupted, but as always, we remind the American public to be vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to law enforcement," he said.
Zazi, 24, has admitted he received weapons training from al Qaida in Pakistan. He is at the center of what federal officials said could be a plot to blow up subways or other targets in New York City. He and his father were arrested last week in Denver. Queens imam Ahmad Wais Afzali, 37, was arrested in New York and also charged with lying to the government during the terror probe.
Afzali was back in court today for a detention hearing, and he was released on a $1.5 million bond secured by his father's home. He will be required to submit to electronic monitoring and he can visit his mosque.
Smiling and holding his wife's hand as he emerged from court, Afzali blurted out a few words seconds after his lawyer Ron Kuby said he had instructed him not to speak.
"Great feeling, very grateful, thank you so much," said the imam.
"I'm very excited that my husband is going home," said his wife Fatima. "I'm very happy."
Federal officials said Zazi drove from Denver to New York on Sept. 9 and a search found him in possession of a bomb-making manual, batteries, a scale, and other equipment that could be used to make explosives.
A joint terrorism task force is continuing to canvas the New York City area to see if chemicals or bomb making equipment might be stored in our area, the sources told NBC New York.
The FBI and NYPD are downplaying questions about whether the case was jeopardized and a series of raids in Flushing last week were forced to go early because of the alleged double cross by the Queens imam. While some federal officials are angry with the NYPD, sources said that top officials believe the blame rests with the informant.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg was careful to praise both sides for their work on the case, noting the seriousness of the threat against the country.
"It was not an accident that FBI and NYPD were devoting a lot of resources," Bloomberg said of the probe. "What happened here is that the cooperation between two agencies resulted in the indictment of people who were planning to kill a lot of people."
"There doesn't seem to be a sense that they made a mistake," Bloomberg added, "but even if they did we won't know until later on."
The New York Police Department has removed a senior official from one of its two sometimes competing antiterrorism units, after it played a role in disrupting a sensitive federal terrorism investigation, current and former police officials told the New York Times.
Federal officials have also issued security bulletins to police around the nation about terrorists' desire to attack stadiums, entertainment complexes and hotels -- while the MTA has boosted security on the city's subway system and commuter trains at "key locations."
In two bulletins sent to police departments Monday, officials said they know of no specific plots against such sites, but urged law enforcement and private companies to be vigilant. These two bulletins followed on the heels of a similar warning about the vulnerabilities of mass transit systems.
The bulletin on stadiums notes that an al-Qaida training manual specifically lists "blasting and destroying the places of amusement, immorality, and sin... and attacking vital economic centers" as desired targets of the global terror network.
A joint statement from DHS and FBI said while the agencies "have no information regarding the timing, location or target of any planned attack, we believe it is prudent to raise the security awareness of our local law enforcement partners regarding the targets and tactics of previous terrorist activity."
Officials said during questioning, Zazi at one point claimed that he was acting alone and had thought about targeting a large box-store retailer located outside of New York. But investigators say they strongly believe those statements were lies.
A second, unrelated indictment unsealed Thursday in the same court charged a Brooklyn man with supporting terrorism in what authorities say is an investigation. An indictment alleges Betim Kaziu traveled to Pakistan this year to try to receive training from a militant group linked to al-Qaida, and tried to go to Afghanistan and Iraq to fight against U.S. forces there.
Kaziu was to be arraigned later Thursday. Prosecutors did not have the name of his attorney.