3 Arrested in Federal Terror Probe

Najibullah Zazi, father, accomplice arrested by FBI officials in Denver

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    AP
    Najibullah Zazi arrives at the offices of the FBI in Denver.

    A Denver man at the center of the New York terror investigation was one of three people arrested and charged overnight for allegedly lying to the FBI.

    Najibullah Zazi was led away in handcuffs after officials said he had lied to agents about a bomb-making formula they discovered on his computer.  

    Justice Department officials during questioning in Denver, Zazi denied the 9 pages of handwritten bomb notes belonged to him.  He claimed he obtained them by accident when he downloaded a religious book.   But investigators said they can show Zazi specifically emailed them to two separate accounts.

    While Zazi is not charged with terror conspiracy counts, court papers said there was "a plot to detonate improvised explosive devices."

    The criminal complaint said Zazi traveled to Pakistan in January.  It is there where officials said he received bomb-making training and met with al Qaida operatives.

    Zazi's attorney earlier in the week denied any wrongdoing but he has declined to repeat those denials overs the last two days saying only 'no comment' when asked about Zazi and his alleged terror ties.

    A Queens Imam, Ahmed Afzali, was also charged with lying to the FBI.   Investigators said Afzali had cooperated with law enforcement in the past.  But when NYPD detectives showed him photos of possible suspects, he allegedly said he knew several from years ago.   When police left, officials said Afzali called Zazi's father to warn investigators were on to his son.  He next called Najibullah Zazi.

    "They came to me to ask me about your characters," Afzali allegedly warned Zazi.  "I told them you are innocent ... It is a good sign.  Bad sign is they coming to pick you up automatically."

    Zazi allegedly spoke how his car was towed and he feared the FBI was on to him.  Afzali allegedly told him to say he went to Pakistan for a 'wedding' and to see his wife.
     
    Under questioning, the FBI said Afzali lied to them about having made the tip-off calls.

    Some officials said it was that tip that forced FBI agents to conduct the Queens raids early before investigators were able to learn more about the alleged cell.

    In an interview with NBCNewYork before his arrest, Afzali said,""Someone is trying to set me up ...I gave the keys to my office (to FBI) Thursday" allowing them to search it.

    Zazi's father was also arrested.  Investigators said he lied claiming he never had conversations with Afzali or helping tip his son that police were on to him.

    The court papers said investigators continue to track several people in New York, Denver and overseas in Pakistan.

    The charges are filed out of the Eastern District of New York and carry up to 8 years in prison if convicted. 
        
    Zazi, a 24-year-old airport shuttle driver, insists he is not involved in terrorism and has no links to al-Qaida.  His defense team denied reports that Zazi is considering a plea deal related to terror charges, and Zazi's attorney, Arthur Folsom, has dismissed as "rumor'' remarks by a senior U.S. intelligence official in Washington that Zazi played a crucial role in an intended terrorist attack.

    Investigators were looking into a botched truck rental on Thursday for connections to the possible plot. The investigation focused on seven Afghan men who allegedly tried to rent the largest truck -- a 26-footer -- at a Jamaica U-Haul on Sept. 9, according to the Daily News.

    When the men couldn't produce credit cards and failed to show identification required to pay for the truck in cash, an employee at the truck rental spot thought he was being "punked," reports the News.

    Investigators also visited Home Depots and pool chemical supply stores in Denver in their search for clues.

    Sources also said Zazi and his associates often uses the word "wedding," which officials suspect is a codeword. However, sources said the 24-year-old Zazi, who moved to Denver from Flushing, Queens several months ago, did attend an actual wedding recently.

    The younger Zazi was questioned for the third time Friday morning. He has already undergone hours of questioning this week, and his apartment and his uncle and aunt's home in suburban Denver have been searched, as well as storage facilities.

    Authorities have not officially said what they found and have made no public statements on the investigation.
        
    Authorities say he rented a car and drove from Denver to New York, crossing into Manhattan the day before the Sept. 11 anniversary.
        
    He was detained in what was described as a routine stop at the George Washington Bridge before he was allowed to go free.
        
    A relative says Zazi drove because he wanted to see the American countryside. Zazi says he went to New York to resolve some issues with a coffee cart he owns in Manhattan, but officials suspected that something more sinister might have been in the works.
        
    FBI agents and police officers with search warrants seeking bomb materials searched three apartments and questioned residents in the neighborhood in Queens where he was staying.

    Zazi allegedly had a video of subways near Grand Central terminal, investigators said Wednesday -- but officials noted the video appeared to be more of a sightseeing tape than any sort of surveillance reel.

    The existence of this cell-phone video, coupled with the discovery of nine knapsacks and a bomb-making formula on a computer, fueled concerns by some New York investigators that the city's rail system could be a possible target, sources said.

    But numerous other high ranking officials tell NBC New York there is no evidence of any plot. These officials said that already high security levels across New York area rail stations have not changed as a result of this investigation. Officials stress if there was any credible evidence of any plot, a public terror warning would have been made.

    A joint FBI-New York Police Department task force feared Zazi may be involved in a potential plot involving hydrogen peroxide-based explosives like those cited in an intelligence warning issued Monday, said two other law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the investigation.
        
    Folsom says Zazi, 24, was born in Afghanistan in 1985, moved to Pakistan at age 7 and emigrated to the United States in 1999. Zazi's aunt had said earlier that he was born in Pakistan and grew up in Queens, N.Y.
        
    Folsom said Zazi has returned to Pakistan four times in recent years: in 2004 because his grandfather was sick and dying, in 2006 to get married and in 2007 and 2008 to visit his wife. He has a green card and had hoped to apply for U.S. citizenship.

     

    Jonathan Dienst WNBC

    WNBC Jonathan DIenst