Denver Suspect Charged In Bomb Plot

A federal grand jury in New York has charged Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year-old Denver-area man, with conspiring to set off bombs in the United States. Zazi appeared in federal court in Denver Thursday. The new indictment raises the stakes in the terror case that first went public last week.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

I'm Robert Siegel.

And we begin this hour with an indictment in a possible terrorist plot against targets in the United States. A federal grand jury in New York has charged a 24-year-old airport shuttle bus driver with plotting to detonate homemade bombs in the U.S. According to the indictment, Najibullah Zazi had been planning for more than a year. Authorities say he bought the chemicals that he needed from beauty supply and home-improvement stores.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has been following this story since it first broke last week. And she joins us from New York. Dina, this new indictment came just before Zazi, who lives near Denver, was supposed to appear in court there on charges that he lied to federal authorities. Why did this new indictment come now?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the new indictment came now because Zazi was going to have this bail hearing in Denver. And because he'd only been arrested for lying to a federal agent, which is a fairly minor charge, the concern was that he might be allowed out on bail. And they certainly didn't want that to happen. So these new charges came out from prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York. And that's where a lot of these terrorism trials have been done here in this country.

And the indictment itself is actually only a couple of pages long. It says Zazi knowingly and intentionally conspired to use one or more weapons of mass destruction against people and property in the United States. And by weapons of mass destruction, what the authorities mean are bombs. Now we should say right away that while Zazi has not answered these new charges directly yet, he has said publicly that he's not a terrorist, and he's not involved in any sort of plot.

SIEGEL: We've been hearing that Najibullah Zazi admitted to training in explosives at an al-Qaida camp in Pakistan. What else have prosecutors revealed about this case?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, what's interesting about this is that there are a handful of new details that have come out with this latest filling. For example, until now we thought that Zazi had traveled alone to Pakistan. He'd originally said he went there to visit his wife. Now, the Justice Department says it can prove he traveled with other people. And that's important because we haven't heard about any arrest of other co-conspirators in this case.

The Justice Department also says it found instructions for making the same kind of explosive used in the 2005 London train bombings - they found on Zazi's computer. The main ingredients are hydrogen peroxide, acetone and a strong acid. So in other words, these are things that you can buy pretty easily. And investigators say Zazi actually brought unusually large quantities of hydrogen peroxide and acetone products from a beauty supply store in the Denver area. Now, that sounds a little strange until you think about the fact that acetone is found in nail polish remover, and peroxide is found in a lot of hair products.

And the Justice Department says it actually has Zazi on surveillance cameras making these purchases. And they say he went to home-improvement stores in Denver to pick up other chemicals he needed. And lastly, the Justice Department says that there were other people helping Zazi buy these products - again, very significant because the only other arrests in this case are Zazi's father and an imam in Queens, New York, both of whom are charged with lying.

SIEGEL: Now the indictment describes him taking a hotel room in Denver - or in Colorado, at least - on September 6th and 7th, and communicating urgently by email with other people. Does the indictment say that he actually tried to build a bomb?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the FBI apparently tested his hotel room and found acetone residue in the vent above the stove. The reason why that's important is in order to do this sort of thing, you need to concentrate the actual chemicals. But that doesn't say that he actually built a bomb.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Dina.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: It's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, speaking to us from New York.

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Terrorism Suspect Charged In Alleged Bombing Plot

Najibullah Zazi was arrested on charges of lying to federal authorities. i i

Najibullah Zazi was arrested on charges of lying to federal authorities in connection with a possible terrorism plot. Marc Piscotty/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Marc Piscotty/Getty Images
Najibullah Zazi was arrested on charges of lying to federal authorities.

Najibullah Zazi was arrested on charges of lying to federal authorities in connection with a possible terrorism plot.

Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

A federal grand jury in New York has indicted a 24-year-old airport shuttle bus driver on charges of conspiring to explode bombs in the United States.

The indictment was unsealed Thursday shortly before the young Afghan, Najibullah Zazi, was to appear in a Denver court on charges of lying to federal authorities investigating a terrorism case. Prosecutors had been signaling that they were likely to add more charges before Zazi's court appearance today, so the New York indictment was not a complete surprise.

The indictment says Zazi "knowingly and intentionally conspired to use one or more weapons of mass destruction against people and property in the United States" — meaning bombs.

The Justice Department also released a permanent order of detention for Zazi. It said he is both a danger to the community and a flight risk and therefore should not be released on bail. The order says that "evidence at trial will prove that the defendant conspired with others to detonate improvised explosive devices within the United States."

Prosecutors say Zazi received intensive bomb-making instructions in Pakistan, purchased components of improvised explosive devices and was conspiring to use them. Zazi has denied that he is a terrorist or was part of any plot to attack the U.S.

Law enforcement officials have been investigating what they have called the most serious terrorist threat against the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Details of what they had discovered about Zazi have been dribbling out for a week.

Officials said he had admitted to traveling to Pakistan and training in explosives at an al-Qaida camp, but he denied a plot was afoot. Today was the first time the Justice Department laid out its reasons for thinking otherwise.

Prosecutors allege that Zazi was among a group of men who traveled from New York to Pakistan in 2008. They say days after he returned to the U.S., he left the New York City borough of Queens, where he had grown up, and moved to the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colo.

Prosecutors say Zazi had three e-mail accounts and on two of them officials say they found graphics files of notes in his handwriting. The notes were instructions on how to manufacture and handle different kinds of explosives. Zazi allegedly e-mailed these instructions to himself. The notes laid out how to mix the same kind of explosives that were used in the 2005 London train bombings. The main ingredients are hydrogen peroxide, acetone, and a strong acid — items that can easily be picked up locally.

Investigators say Zazi began buying unusually large quantities of hydrogen peroxide and acetone products from beauty supply stores in the Denver area in June. Acetone is found in nail polish remover, and hydrogen peroxide is a component in many beauty products. Investigators say they have Zazi on surveillance cameras purchasing the chemicals. They also say he went to home improvement stores in the Denver area to pick up more chemicals he needed, and that others helped Zazi buy the products. Their arrests, if they have occurred, have not yet been announced.

So far, authorities have announced three arrests: Zazi, his father, Mohammed, and an imam from Queens. Until this morning's superseding indictment on the younger Zazi, the three men were being held on the relatively minor charge of lying to federal authorities.

The Justice Department says that on Sept. 6, Zazi checked into a hotel in Aurora. The FBI tested his hotel room and found acetone residue in the vent above the stove. In order to get chemicals like hydrogen peroxide or acetone down to the right concentrations for explosives, they need to be boiled down. Zazi was also apparently trying to contact another individual around the same time to get advice on concentrations of the chemicals. This kind of detail explains why law enforcement authorities have been working around the clock and have been hunting for explosives.

The government is seeking to move Zazi to New York on Thursday. Zazi's lawyer in Denver asked the judge there for a continuance.

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