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Colorado man questioned in N.Y. terror inquiry

Two law enforcement officials confirm that an FBI-New York Police Department task force had Najibullah Zazi under surveillance because of suspected links to Al Qaeda.

September 16, 2009|Associated Press

NEW YORK — A Colorado man denied Tuesday that he was a central figure in a terrorism investigation that led to several police raids in New York.

Najibullah Zazi told the Associated Press at his home outside Denver that he was driving a rental car on a visit to New York when he was stopped by authorities Thursday on the George Washington Bridge, which connects New York City and New Jersey. But he said that after officers searched the vehicle, he was allowed to leave and return to suburban Denver.

"All I can say is that I have no idea what it is all about," said Zazi, 24.

Two law enforcement officials confirmed Tuesday that an FBI-New York Police Department task force had put Zazi -- an airport shuttle driver whom a relative says recently traveled to Pakistan -- under surveillance because of suspected links to Al Qaeda.

The task force also feared Zazi could be involved in a potential plot involving homemade hydrogen peroxide-based explosives like those cited in an intelligence warning issued Monday, said the officials, who were not authorized to speak about the investigation and insisted on anonymity.

After Zazi traveled to New York, FBI agents and police officers armed with search warrants seeking bomb materials staged a surprise raid that rattled a predominantly Asian neighborhood in Queens. Investigators searched three apartments and questioned residents, including an Afghan immigrant who grew up with Zazi.

No arrests were announced, and elected officials briefed on the inquiry said there was no imminent threat. But the FBI and NYPD have since refused to discuss the case.

The intelligence warning, issued to police departments, lists indicators that could tip off police to peroxide-based bombs, such as people with burn marks on their hands, face or arms; foul odors coming from a building; and industrial fans or multiple window fans.

The warning, obtained by the Associated Press, said that these materials could be hidden in backpacks, suitcases or plastic containers.

In an interview, Zazi said he was the subject of interest in the case but denied he was being investigated.

"I spent two days in New York, flew back, and I have nothing else to say," he said. "I am an airport driver, and that's all I can say."

Zazi's aunt, Rabia Zazi, 35, confirmed in a separate interview that her nephew recently visited the Peshawar region of Pakistan -- where she said he had a wife whom he hoped to bring to the United States.

She said Zazi was born in Pakistan but moved to the United States as a boy and grew up in Queens. He moved to Colorado several months ago to help his father with his shuttle business, she said.

Asked if there was any reason to suspect him of illegal activity, she said: "He doesn't have time. He's working."

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