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September 21, 2009

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FBI swoops on 3 men in inquiry over terror

THE FBI has arrested a 24-year-old Colorado man on charges of making false statements to federal agents in an ongoing terror inquiry, and supporting documents contend the man admitted receiving weapons and explosives training from al-Qaida in Pakistan.
Najibullah Zazi was arrested late on Saturday after three days of questioning by the FBI. Zazi, a legally permanent resident from Afghanistan, was due to appear in federal court today.
Also arrested were Zazi's father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, 53, in Denver, and an associate, Ahmad Wais Afzali, 37, of Queens, New York, the US Justice Department said yesterday.
Both were also charged with making false statements to federal agents, a charge that carries a penalty of eight years in prison. Court appearances for both also are set for today.
Zazi has repeatedly denied any connection to al-Qaida or to a purported terrorist plot.
A senior United States intelligence official in Washington told The Associated Press on Friday that Zazi has indicated that he is directly linked with al-Qaida.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Zazi played a crucial role in an intended terrorist attack but that it was not clear what the targets were.
The FBI is investigating individuals in the US, Pakistan and elsewhere over an alleged plot to detonate explosive devices in the US, the Justice Department said in a statement.
"The arrests carried out are part of an ongoing and fast-paced investigation," said David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security. "It is important to note that we have no specific information regarding the timing, location or target of any planned attack."
A joint FBI-New York Police Department task force feared Zazi may have been involved in a potential plot involving hydrogen peroxide-based explosives like those cited in an intelligence warning issued last Monday, according to two other law enforcement officials.
Telephone taps
At a celebration for the end of Ramadan that drew an estimated 5,000 people to a hotel in Denver's suburban Aurora yesterday morning, there was suspicion and concern over the arrests among Muslims.
Taj Ashaheed, Colorado Muslim Society spokesman, said he was surprised that the three men were only charged with lying to authorities, considering the hype that had surrounded them.
"No one here subscribes to the idea of terrorism. We're citizens, too," he said. "If these things are true, it's disturbing and troubling, particularly to the Muslim community."
In documents filed with the court, investigators say Zazi admitted to FBI agents last week that in 2008 he received weapons and explosives training from al-Qaida in tribal areas of Pakistan.
The terror probe gathered momentum after Zazi rented a car and drove from Denver to New York, crossing into Manhattan on September 10. Zazi said he went to New York to resolve some issues with a coffee cart he owns in Manhattan, then flew home to Denver.
The FBI searched Zazi's rental car and laptop during the New York trip and listened in on telephone conversations, according to the affidavits.
Last Monday, FBI agents and police officers with search warrants seeking bomb material searched three apartments and questioned residents in the Queens neighborhood where Zazi stayed.
A September 11 search of Zazi's rental car in New York turned up a laptop computer that contained an image of nine pages of handwritten notes, court documents show.
Those notes included instructions about how to build explosives and detonators.
Zazi allegedly told federal agents he must have unintentionally downloaded the notes along with a religious book.
However, federal agents suspect Zazi received the notes via e-mail.


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