- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 20, 2009

UPDATED:

The Justice Department has charged three men with lying to the FBI as part of a terrorism investigation that has played out in an unusually public fashion during the past week, authorities said Sunday.

The three men — Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year-old airport shuttle driver who has emerged as the focal point of the investigation; his father, 53-year-old Mohammed Wali Zazi; and Ahmad Wais Afzali, a 37-year-old informant for the New York Police Department — were arrested Saturday. They each face eight years in prison if convicted.

The arrests came as part of an investigation that the FBI said centered on a plot involving several people in this country and Pakistan who wanted to detonate improvised explosive devices in the United States.

But investigators have not uncovered any specific information regarding the timing, location or target of any planned attack, said to David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security. Other officials in recent days, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., have said that there is no immediate threat to Americans.

Still, authorities say they made troubling discoveries, including that Najibullah Zazi, a legal permanent resident from Afghanistan, received weapons and explosives training at an al Qaeda training facility in Pakistan and had written instructions on his computer related to making bombs. Authorities did not release any information linking the other two men to potential terrorist activity.

Mr. Zazi has insisted during several interviews with media outlets that he is not a terrorist.

“I live here. I work here. Why would I have an issue with America?” he told the Denver Post. “This is the only country that gives you freedom — freedom of religion, freedom of choice. You don’t get that elsewhere. Nobody wants to leave America. People die to come here.” According to affidavits filed in the case, Mr. Zazi and others were under FBI surveillance before last Mondays raid on several New York City apartments, which publicly revealed the investigation. On Sept. 9, according to the affidavits, FBI agents saw Mr. Zazi leave his home in Colorado in a rental car and drive to New York. Mr. Zazi arrived the next day and spent the night at an apartment in Flushing section of Queens. The same day Mr. Zazi arrived, New York police detectives showed his picture to Mr. Afzali, who has worked for police as an informant. Mr. Afzali said that he recognized Mr. Zazi and the photographs of other men the police showed him, according to authorities.

The FBI said Mr. Afzali later told Mohammed Zazi about the visit from law enforcement. During a later conversation captured on wiretap, according to the affidavits, Mohammed Zazi relayed that information to his son and urged him to speak to Mr. Afzali, whom he described as an imam, before anything else.

“See if you need to go to (Mr. Afzali) or … hire an attorney,” the elder Mr. Zazi said, according to the affidavit. “What has happened? What have you guys done?”

Mr. Afzali called Najibullah Zazi while he was speaking to his father, the FBI said.

I was exposed to something yesterday from law enforcement. And they came to ask me about your characters,” Mr. Afzali told Mr. Zazi, according to the affidavits. “And I told them that they are innocent, law-abiding.”

Mr. Afzali also offered Mr. Zazi advice.

“Don’t get involved in Afghanistan garbage, Iraq garbage,” he is quoted in the affidavits as saying. “Listen, our phone call is being monitored.

Authorities already had stopped Najibullah Zazi on the George Washington Bridge and searched his rental car when they received a search warrant on Sept. 11 for Mr. Zazis car and towed it from outside the Queens apartment without his knowledge.

Initially fearing the car had been stolen, according to the affidavits, Mr. Zazi called Mr. Aflazi, who was recorded on a wiretap asking if there was any evidence in his car. Mr. Zazi said no.

But investigators say they found a photograph of a nine-page handwritten note on a laptop computer left in the car. According the FBI, the notes contain formulations and instructions regarding the manufacture and handling of initiating explosives, main explosives charges, explosives detonators and components of a fuzing system.

On Sept. 12, Najibullah Zazi flew from La Guardia Airport in New York to Denver. He has told the media he had only come to Queens to visit friends and left because he was tired of receiving harassment from law enforcement.

In subsequent days, Mr. Zazi and his lawyer spoke to the media several times and voluntarily went to the FBI offices in Denver to be interviewed three times.

The basis of the charges against Mr. Zazi come because the FBI said he lied to investigators when he said he didnt recognize the photograph of the handwritten notes found on his computer.

The FBI said Mr. Zazi also admitted that he travelled to Pakistan in 2008 to attend an al Qaeda training camp, but Mr. Zazi does not face any charges related to his trip to Pakistan. He previously has said he travelled there to visit his wife.

In a separate interview with the FBI in New York, authorities say, Mr. Aflazi lied to investigators when he said he didnt tell either Zazi about authorities approaching him to seek information. He is also accused of lying when he said he did not tell Najibullah Zazi that law enforcement was monitoring their phone conversations, and also said he didnt ask Mr. Zazi about whether he left evidence in the rental car.

The charges against Mohammed Zazi come from his telling the FBI he did not speak to Mr. Aflazi about his sons trip to New York, authorities said.

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