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Judge orders alleged bomb plotter held

Najibullah Zazi, charged with conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction in the U.S., is reportedly on his way to court in New York after being denied release in Denver.

September 26, 2009|DeeDee Correll

DENVER — A Denver man accused of plotting a terrorist attack in the United States had apparently planned to set off a bomb in New York on the most recent anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, a federal prosecutor said Friday.

That revelation came during what was otherwise a routine federal court hearing in Denver that paved the way for Najibullah Zazi, 24, to be flown to New York on Friday.

"The evidence suggests a chilling, disturbing sequence of events showing the defendant was intent on making a bomb and being in New York on 9/11, for purposes of perhaps using such items," Assistant U.S. Atty. Tim Neff told the court.

Zazi, an airport shuttle driver in Denver, was indicted on a terrorism charge Thursday by a federal grand jury in New York, but the indictment did not spell out when or where an attack was allegedly planned to take place.

Neff made the remarks during a hearing in which Magistrate Judge Craig Shaffer dismissed a charge against Zazi of making false statements to authorities, thus clearing the way for the Afghan-born man to be transferred to New York to face the terrorism charge.

At the detention hearing Friday morning, Shaffer rejected arguments by Zazi's attorney, Arthur Folsom, that Zazi should be freed on bail.

Folsom said that Zazi didn't pose a flight risk because most of his immediate family lives in Colorado and because he had neither the resources nor inclination to flee the country. Folsom argued that if Zazi had wanted to escape, he had several opportunities to do so before his arrest.

Shaffer countered that Zazi had powerful incentives for running away, including the possibility that if convicted, he could face deportation after serving his sentence. Zazi is a legal U.S. resident, not a citizen.

"He has very little reason to stay," Shaffer said. Shaffer also said that Zazi posed "substantial danger" to the community if freed.

Folsom also challenged Neff's assertion that Zazi had planned to carry out an attack in New York on Sept. 11.

"He was there on 9/11," Folsom said. "He was there through the entire time period, and nothing occurred."

The indictment said that Zazi and unnamed co-conspirators recently made large purchases of chemicals from beauty supply stores, including hydrogen peroxide and acetone, that can be used to make explosives. It also said Zazi had researched how to make bombs and had sought advice on mixing chemicals for explosives.

The chemicals that Zazi and others sought were the kind found in the "explosive used in the 2005 London train bombings and intended to be used in the 2001 'shoe bomb' plot by Richard Reid," the indictment said.

The document spelled out Zazi's alleged activities in the days leading up to the Sept. 11 anniversary.

On Sept. 8, the indictment said, Zazi rented a car in Colorado and searched the Internet for the location of a home-improvement store in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens in New York City. Zazi then searched the company's website for information on muriatic acid, which can be used as a bomb-making component, it said.

"Zazi viewed four different types of muriatic acid," the indictment said. "He viewed one particular type -- Klean-Strip Green Safer Muriatic Acid -- multiple times. This product claims to have lower fumes and is safer to handle than standard muriatic acid."

The next day, Sept. 9, Zazi began driving to New York, taking with him a laptop computer that contained bomb-making instructions, the indictment said.

The indictment goes on to say:

"Zazi arrived in New York on the afternoon of September 10 and traveled to Flushing, Queens. Lawfully authorized intercepts of Zazi's cell phone reflect that Zazi became suspicious, and then learned directly, that law enforcement officers were tracing his activities. Zazi ultimately purchased an airline ticket and returned to Denver on September 12."

Meanwhile, two other men accused this week of plotting to bomb buildings in Texas and Illinois remained in custody Friday. Authorities say the cases are not connected to Zazi's case.

Decatur, Ill., resident Michael Finton, 29, also known as Talib Islam, was arrested Wednesday after he parked a van that he thought was filled with explosives outside a federal courthouse in Springfield, Ill., according to authorities.

In an indictment released Thursday, federal officials said that Finton worked with federal agents who were posing as Al Qaeda operatives planning to bomb the courthouse.

A similar scenario played out in Texas, where authorities accused Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, 19, of attempting to bomb an office tower Thursday in downtown Dallas. Smadi, duped into thinking he was working with Al Qaeda members, also was under federal surveillance, according to an indictment.

According to the Associated Press, Smadi appeared in a Dallas courtroom Friday and waived his right to an immigration hearing. He is scheduled to appear in court Oct. 5.

Smadi, a native of Jordan, lived and worked in the north Texas town of Italy and was known as Sam. A neighbor at the housing complex where he lived described Smadi as a fun-loving guy who danced to techno music and worked as a cashier at a gas station, according to the Associated Press.

"It's crazy, because I still can't believe the Sam that I know doing anything like that," Tabatha Rogers, 19, told the news agency. "He was just a real good guy."

--

Correll writes for The Times.

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