- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

Najibullah Zazi, the 24-year-old Afghan national at the center of a terrorism investigation that has unfolded publicly during the past two weeks, was indicted Thursday on a charge of plotting a mass-casualty bombing campaign in the United States.

Mr. Zazi, a permanent legal resident who works as an airport shuttle driver in Denver, was charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction — explosive bombs — against persons or property in the United States. He faces life in prison if convicted.

The new charge represents a serious escalation of the legal issues facing Mr. Zazi, who was charged last weekend with the far less serious charge of lying to FBI agents investigating a purported al Qaeda bombing plot involving several people in the United States and Pakistan.

“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 H. Holder Jr. 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 to report any suspicious activity to law enforcement.”

Mr. Zazi appeared Thursday in federal court in Denver, where authorities asked a judge to dismiss the lying charges and order Mr. Zazi transferred to Brooklyn, where the most recent and more serious charges were filed.

Authorities will request that Mr. Zazi not receive bail, arguing in court papers that he “poses a significant danger to the community” and “remained committed to detonating an explosive advice up until the date of his arrest.”

The Denver hearing adjourned late Thursday morning and is expected to wrap up Friday, though the New York charges make Mr. Zazi unlikely to receive bail, the initial purpose of the hearing.

Mr. Zazi’s father and a New York imam also have been charged with lying to the FBI, but neither man has been linked to the purported plot and both have been released on bail.

The imam, 37-year-old Ahmad Wais Afzali, was released Thursday on a $1.5 million bond that included him posting his parents’ Queens home as collateral. “If you don’t come back to court, they are going to be ruined financially,” the judge told Mr. Afzali, who authorities say tipped off Mr. Zazi about the investigation and then denied doing so to FBI agents.

Mohammed Wali Zazi, 53, previously was ordered released on an unsecured $50,000 bond. He is accused of lying to investigators about discussions he had with Mr. Afzali.

While the scope of the purported plot still remains unclear, prosecutors filed documents in the case Thursday that provide the most complete accounting to date of the government’s accusations. They indicate the case against Najibullah Zazi was built through surveillance, wiretaps, seized receipts and forensic analysis.

Investigators had Mr. Zazi under surveillance when he drove a rental car from Colorado to New York two weeks ago. Mr. Zazi lived in Queens before moving to Colorado in January.

Authorities later seized Mr. Zazi’s laptop computer from the rental car and found a photograph on it of nine-page handwritten instructions about bomb making. The FBI said a handwriting expert determined Mr. Zazi wrote the notes, an accusation he denied to investigators, which led authorities to bring the original lying charges against him.

Court records indicate the notes contained instructions for making triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, which is the type of explosive used in the 2005 London train bombing, and what shoe bomber Richard Reid tried to used on an airplane in 2001. According to authorities, the three components of TATP are hydrogen peroxide, acetone — which is found in nail polish remover — and a “strong” acid, such as hydrochloric acid.

“During July and August 2009, Zazi and others associated with Zazi purchased large quantities of hydrogen peroxide and acetone products from beauty supply stores in the Denver metropolitan area,” memo stated. Investigators said they also kept Mr. Zazi under surveillance when he rented a hotel suite in Colorado on Sept. 6 and 7. Authorities believe Mr. Zazi used the suite’s stove to cook the components together to make a bomb; agents said they found chemical residue in a vent above the stove.

It appears Mr. Zazi was not successful in making a bomb. Intercepted communications — court records do not indicate what type — show that Mr. Zazi repeatedly attempted to make contact with another person “to correct the mixture of ingredients to make explosives.”

Court records indicate “each communication more urgent in tone than the last — Zazi repeatedly emphasized in the communications that he needed the answers right away.”

On Sept. 9, Mr. Zazi left for New York in a rental car but became suspicious that he was under surveillance. Court records indicate that his suspicions were confirmed after Mr. Afzali, who has cooperated with law enforcement in previous cases, told him on Sept. 11 that New York police detectives had visited and showed the imam pictures of Mr. Zazi and others.

Mr. Zazi left the city the next day, two days earlier than he had been scheduled to return his car to the rental company.

Law enforcement agents on Sept. 14 raided a Queens apartment where Mr. Zazi had stayed and found a scale and batteries with his fingerprints on them.

Mr. Zazi emerged as the focus of the investigation after media coverage of the raid. He gave interviews to the press denying he was a terrorist and met voluntarily several times with FBI agents before his arrest.

The FBI said Mr. Zazi admitted to them that he had traveled to Pakistan last year and attended explosives training from al Qaeda operatives. Mr. Zazi told the press he had gone to that country to visit his wife.

Authorities continued investigating the case after Mr. Zazi was charged with lying to the FBI and said the evidence they gathered leads “to the inescapable conclusion that Zazi and others conspired to use an improvised explosive device and that Zazi took substantial steps toward carrying out the plan.”

Valerie Richardson contributed to this report from Denver.

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