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Father, son arrested in terrorism investigation

Najibullah Zazi, a Denver-area airport shuttle driver, is arrested along with his father and another man by FBI agents in connection with a suspected terrorist plot.

September 20, 2009|Josh Meyer

WASHINGTON — Federal authorities arrested a Denver-area airport shuttle driver, his father and another man late Saturday in connection with a suspected plot to launch a terrorist attack within the United States, the Justice Department said early today.

Najibullah Zazi, 24, and his father, Wali Mohammed Zazi, 53, were taken into custody at their home in Aurora, Colo., and charged with "knowingly and willfully making false statements to the FBI in a matter involving international and domestic terrorism" during several days of questioning, according to a federal complaint.

FBI agents in New York arrested Ahmad Wais Afzali, 37, of Flushing, N.Y., on similar charges. Authorities say Afzali is a New York Police Department informant who may have tried to warn the younger Zazi about the FBI's interest in him.

In court filings, FBI agents said authorities are investigating Zazi, Afzali and others "in the United States, Pakistan and elsewhere, relating to a plot to detonate improvised explosive devices" in the U.S.

The court filings, including sworn affidavits from FBI agents, described travels by Zazi to Pakistan and his trip from Colorado to New York this month in a rented car.

They also said a Sept. 11 search of Zazi's car in New York turned up a laptop that contained images of handwritten notes on how to make and handle explosives and detonators. The court filings said that Zazi, identified as "Individual A," admitted as part of a possible plea deal that during his 2008 trip to Pakistan he "attended courses at an Al Qaeda training facility" in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where he received instruction on subjects such as weapons and explosives.

Zazi, in statements to the media in recent days, said he was in Pakistan only to visit his wife.

"The arrests carried out tonight 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."

The three men under arrest are either naturalized U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents from Afghanistan.

The arrest late Saturday marked at least the third time that FBI agents had swarmed the suburban Denver housing complex where Zazi and his father live. This time the two were brought out in handcuffs and whisked away in a caravan of FBI vehicles.

The FBI, Department of Homeland Security and New York Police Department have been on high alert during the last week.

The police department and FBI have clashed over what some federal law enforcement officials said was the department's desire to disclose elements of the investigation.

Zazi and his lawyer, Arthur Folsom, have insisted that the young airport shuttle driver is not a terrorist. And they had rejected as false news reports claiming that authorities had found bomb-making blueprints, e-mails about a plot and other incriminating information during their intensive investigation.

Zazi and his lawyer had spent the last three days meeting with FBI agents to answer their questions, but they abruptly stopped cooperating Saturday morning.

A spokeswoman, Wendy Aiello, issued a statement after the arrest saying Folsom was with Zazi and his father at FBI offices in Denver, and that they would not comment further.

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josh.meyer@latimes.com

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