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Afghan immigrant pleads not guilty to bombing conspiracy

Denver airport shuttle driver Najibullah Zazi appears in federal court in New York and is being held without bail in what authorities call the first Al Qaeda-linked plot on U.S. soil since 9/11.

September 30, 2009|Tina Susman

NEW YORK — An Afghan immigrant charged with conspiring to bomb U.S. targets in an attack possibly intended to coincide with the Sept. 11 anniversary pleaded not guilty in federal court Tuesday.

Najibullah Zazi of Aurora, Colo., was ordered held without bail in what authorities have called the first Al Qaeda-linked plot on U.S. soil since the 2001 attacks. He appeared beside his attorney, wearing orange sneakers, black trousers and a tunic. Zazi, 24, his heavy beard neatly trimmed, did not speak, and there were no family members in the packed courthouse.

Prosecutors said the case against Zazi would be "voluminous" and that the charge against him was "international in scope." Zazi has been charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, which could bring a life sentence if he is convicted.

The airport shuttle driver was arrested in Denver this month and initially charged with lying to federal agents who were investigating the alleged plot. His father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, also of Colorado, and a New York imam, Ahmad Wais Afzali, were arrested at the same time and also charged with lying to agents. Both have been freed on bail.

Only the younger Zazi, who has traveled twice to Peshawar, Pakistan, since August 2008, has been charged with conspiring to detonate explosives, using chemicals purchased in large amounts from beauty supply stores.

After Tuesday's brief hearing in federal court in Brooklyn, Zazi's attorney, J. Michael Dowling, challenged prosecutors to produce his client's alleged co-conspirators, saying that without them, the conspiracy charge would collapse.

"I've not seen any evidence whatsoever of an agreement between Mr. Zazi and anyone else," Dowling said.

"What I have seen is that Mr. Zazi traveled to Pakistan, which is not illegal," he said.

"Unless Mr. Zazi has an agreement with one or more people to commit an unlawful act, this conspiracy charge cannot be sustained," Dowling said.

Zazi's next court date was scheduled for December.

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tina.susman@latimes.com

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