Najibullah Zazi, the suspected Qaeda operative with ties to Queens who is at the center of a possible plot to detonate explosives coinciding with the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was indicted in a New York federal court on Friday for “conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against persons or property in the United States.” He was arraigned on Tuesday, pleading not guilty. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
“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,” Attorney General Eric Holder said. “We believe any imminent threat arising from this case has been disrupted, but as always, we remind the American public to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement.”
The indictment alleges that between Aug. 1, 2008 and Sept. 21, 2009 Zazi and others plotted to detonate bombs or other explosive devices in the United States.
According to the Associated Press, authorities know the identities of three other people also involved in the alleged terrorist scheme. Officials have not said if they remain at large.
Zazi’s visit to New York two weeks ago spurred the raids of three Flushing area apartment buildings and set off a series of government warnings prompting police departments to beef up security at entertainment complexes, stadiums and transit hubs.
Zazi had lived in Queens most of his life before moving to Colorado eight months ago and reportedly attended religious services at the Masjid Hazrat Abubakr mosque in Flushing. On Monday, men at the Union Street house of worship told the Queens Chronicle that Zazi actually had visited the mosque’s other location, a few blocks away on 33rd Avenue. They would not comment on the case.
A Muslim man at the 33rd Avenue location, who declined to give his name, said the mosque doesn’t keep track of its members, and that anyone who wants to come in to pray is welcome.
Asked about the terrorism charges against Zazi, the man said: “Muslims do not support the concept of terrorism. I don’t understand how a person can kill another person.”
Zazi was arrested in Colorado on Sept. 19 and charged with “knowingly and willfully making false statements to the FBI in a matter involving international and domestic terrorism.” He allegedly lied about having bomb-making notes on his laptop computer. He appeared in federal District Court in Colorado on Sept. 21 to face those charges.
Now the government has asked for the initial charge to be dropped in lieu of the newer, more serious allegation.
In a 12-page detention memorandum the government states: “Zazi remained committed to detonating an explosive device up until the date of his arrest.”
They requested that he be held without bail because they said he is a flight risk and a danger to the community.
In a federal court in Denver, Judge Craig Shaffer ordered that Zazi be transferred to New York, where he was to remain in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn until his arraignment.
The detention memorandum also describes a disturbing timeline of events in support of the notion that Zazi’s trip to New York was the culmination of a terrorist plot organized by himself and others.
On Aug. 28, 2008 Zazi traveled to Pakistan, and during that time he allegedly had bomb-making notes in emails sent to an account registered to himself along with two other accounts with similar passwords. They were the same notes that were found on his laptop when it was confiscated by the FBI during his New York visit.
The notes detail how to make explosives including triacetone triperoxide, which contains three ingredients — hydrogen peroxide, acetone and a strong acid like hydrochloric acid. The ingredients, found in beauty products such as hair dye and nail polish remover can be mixed with other ingredients to make an explosive device.
TATP is the same explosive used in the 2005 London bombing, which killed 52 bus and subway riders. It also was used by shoe-bomber Richard Reid, who in 2001 tried to destroy American Airlines Flight 63.
During the FBI’s search of Zazi’s computer they also found that during the summer of 2009 he had searched websites on hydrochloric acid and had visited a beauty salon site searching for hydrocide and peroxide.
Also that summer, the document says, Zazi and others visited beauty supply stores in Denver where they bought an unusually large amount of peroxide and acetone products.
On Aug. 28, the same day that Zazi purchased 12 bottles of a hydrogen-based product called “Ms. K Liquid 40” he checked into a suite at an Aurora, Col. hotel. On Sept. 6 and 7 he rented the same suite and communicated with another individual, asking about the correct mixtures to make the explosives and stating that he needed the answers right away.
The bomb-making notes on Zazi’s computer explain how heating the required ingredients makes them highly concentrated and after testing the vent above the stove in Zazi’s suite, the FBI discovered acetone residue.
On Sept. 8, the day Zazi began his drive to New York, he searched the Internet for home improvement stores in Flushing and examined one establishment’s website, looking at four different kinds of muriatric acid which is a diluted form of the hydrocholoric acid, one of the components used in making TATP.
After raiding the Flushing apartment of Naiz Khan, where Zazi had stayed one night during his New York visit, the FBI discovered, among other things, an electronic scale and batteries with Zazi’s fingerprints on them.
According to the FBI’s explosives unit, the scale could be used to weigh the ingredients for the bombs outlined in Zazi’s notes.
After Zazi returned to Colorado, the FBI searched his home and discovered the hard drive of the computer they had examined multiple times before had been removed.
“That Mr. Zazi purchased certain products that contained chemicals that allegedly could be used to make a bomb — those acts were not illegal and I have not seen any evidence whatsoever of an agreement between Mr. Zazi and anyone else which is the essence of a conspiracy charge,” said Zazi’s lawyer, J. Michael Dowling, outside Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday. “I’m not saying the government does not have this evidence, but I haven’t seen it yet and to use a hackneyed phrase, I’d like to stop this rush to judgement.”
The suspect’s father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, was arrested on Sept. 19 on charges that he lied to federal authorities about phone calls placed to his son and Ahmad Wais Afzali, the Flushing imam who allegedly tipped off the younger Zazi to an FBI tail.
The elder Zazi was released Thursday on $50,000 bail pending a hearing on Oct. 9. His movements will be restricted and electronically monitored.
Afzali, who was arrested for lying to federal authorities about alerting Zazi to the FBI investigation, was also released Thursday on $1.5 million bond, and he too will be electronically monitored. He is only allowed to travel to the funeral home where he works, religious services at a mosque and his lawyer’s office.
“Obviously, the government would not be consenting to his release on bail if they genuinely believed that he was involved in a terrorist conspiracy. So I don’t think the government believes that,” Afzali’s attorney, Ron Kuby, said. “I know it’s not true and that’s why he is being released.”