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Colorado man's home searched in FBI terrorism inquiry

FBI agents question Najibullah Zazi and search his home. He had stayed at a Queens, N.Y., home that was searched for bomb-making materials. His attorney denies he has any links to terrorists.

September 18, 2009|DeeDee Correll | Correll writes for The Times.

DENVER — Najibullah Zazi, 24, drives passengers to and from Denver International Airport for a living.

He has also worked at a fast-food restaurant and sold coffee and doughnuts, said his attorney, describing Zazi as a hardworking immigrant who hopes to become an American citizen, not a bomb-making terrorist suspect with a possible link to Al Qaeda.

FBI agents questioned Zazi on Wednesday and Thursday and executed search warrants at his apartment in the Denver suburb of Aurora, as well as the nearby home of his aunt. An FBI spokeswoman declined to discuss the case, but Zazi's attorney, Art Folsom, said he believed agents would have arrested Zazi had they found anything suspicious.

Zazi's name emerged this week after the FBI and police searched for bomb materials at three homes in Queens, N.Y., one of which Zazi recently visited. No arrests were announced.

Citing two unnamed law enforcement officials, the Associated Press has reported that an FBI-New York Police Department task force suspected that Zazi may be involved in an alleged plot involving homemade hydrogen peroxide-based explosives. In interviews to the media outside his apartment this week, Zazi denied any terrorist involvement.

Folsom attributed the FBI's interest in Zazi to an "unfortunate set of coincidences," including his periodic travel to Pakistan to visit his wife and his trip last week to New York, where he spent the night at the home of a friend, Naiz Khan, who apparently was already under surveillance.

"We're pretty sure that's what sparked the attention," Folsom said.

Folsom, who advised Zazi not to speak to the media, said Zazi was born in Afghanistan and moved with his family to Pakistan when he was 7. Zazi lived there until he was 15, when his family immigrated to Queens. In January, the family moved to Colorado for its cheaper cost of living and to be near other relatives, Folsom said. Zazi has worked at an airport shuttle service, but left the job this week in the wake of the investigation. He travels to Pakistan once a year to see his wife, whom he wed in 2006 and has sought unsuccessfully to bring to the U.S., Folsom said.

On Sept. 9, Zazi drove to New York to visit friends and family and take care of a business license renewal and other issues over a vending cart business in which Zazi owns an interest, Folsom said.

As he entered the city on the George Washington Bridge, authorities pulled Zazi over for what he thought was a random drug checkpoint, questioned him and let him continue, Folsom said. It's unclear whether that encounter had anything to do with the FBI investigation.

Before Zazi left New York two days later, his car was towed, allegedly for a parking violation, said Folsom, who believes federal officials searched it. Some media reports have cited anonymous sources saying that officials found bomb-making documents in the car, a claim Folsom denies.

Folsom said he and Zazi had contacted the FBI on Wednesday and offered to answer questions, adding that his client was stressed and overwhelmed.

"He's a very shy guy, very soft-spoken. He spends his life working or with his family, and now suddenly, he's one of the biggest news stories in the country," Folsom said.

A legal permanent resident, Zazi will become eligible next month to apply for citizenship and intends to do so, Folsom said. "He loves being here. He looks at it as a land of opportunity."

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