3 held in suspected plot

FBI probes al-Qaida ties

Chicago tribuneSeptember 21, 2009 

— Authorities pressed an urgent investigation Sunday into whether a Denver-area airport shuttle driver, his father and associates in New York were part of the first operational al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist plot on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

They were also probing what the targets in such a plot might have been.

Najibullah Zazi, 24, an Afghan emigre, and his father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, 53, were arrested late Saturday at their townhouse in the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colo. They had undergone three days of questioning by the FBI but had stopped cooperating, authorities said. Also arrested was Ahmad Wais Afzali, 37, of Flushing, N.Y., who was described in court documents as an informant for the New York Police Department.

All three were charged with making false statements to federal agents in an ongoing terrorism investigation and were to appear in court today. Court documents said Afzali might have tried to tip off the younger Zazi that he was under investigation. All are either naturalized U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents from Afghanistan.

In New York this month, the younger Zazi's vehicle was pulled over and searched. Authorities also raided three apartments in the Queens borough and questioned residents, including an Afghan immigrant who grew up with Zazi.

FBI agents alleged in court documents Sunday that Zazi admitted receiving weapons and explosives training from al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan last year. In court documents and interviews, they also alleged a handwritten recipe for homemade explosives was found on Zazi's laptop computer, and they said it would have produced a bomb of the same size and type used in the deadly 2005 attacks on London's subways and buses. Authorities said they had seized nine backpacks during last week's raids in New York.

In announcing the charges early Sunday, Assistant U.S. Attorney General David Kris said agents were working around the clock, domestically and internationally, in "an ongoing and fast-paced investigation."

Kris acknowledged authorities "have no specific information regarding the timing, location or target of any planned attack." But he said the alleged plot focused on an effort to detonate explosive devices somewhere in the U.S.

The Zazis' potential role in such a plot, and Afzali's, remained murky. Some U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence officials said the younger Zazi indicated he was directly linked to al-Qaida and he was to play a key role in an intended terrorist attack. That helped prompt an urgent bulletin from the FBI and other agencies to authorities around the country last week, warning them to be on the lookout for potential plots involving hydrogen-peroxide-based explosives.

According to news reports, authorities also searched a New York truck rental company, looking for evidence that some of Zazi's alleged associates were plotting a truck bombing.

In his earlier public statements, Zazi repeatedly denied any connection to al-Qaida or to a purported terrorist plot.

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