New York City Police Department/AP
Najibullah Zazi is escorted off a New York Police Department helicopter by U.S. marshals after being extradited from Denver on Friday. Zazi was flown to New York to face charges of plotting to use weapons of mass destruction against U.S. targets.
Najibullah Zazi is escorted off a New York Police Department helicopter by U.S. marshals after being extradited from Denver on Friday. Zazi was flown to New York to face charges of plotting to use weapons of mass destruction against U.S. targets. New York City Police Department/AP
The man at the center of an alleged plot to blow up transportation targets in New York City pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a charge of plotting to use weapons of mass destruction against U.S. targets.
Najibullah Zazi appeared before a Brooklyn judge for the first time Tuesday and was ordered held without bail during a brief hearing. Law enforcement officials say Zazi's alleged plot was the most serious terrorist threat against the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
While the FBI arrested Zazi just a little more than a week ago, U.S. intelligence officials had been tracking him for months. They had been listening to Zazi's phone calls, tracking his e-mails and following his associates for months in a bid to uncover exactly what he was planning and who was helping him. The investigation blew up before they got answers to either of the questions.
Officials close to the case tell NPR that more arrests could happen as soon as this week.
"We still don't know what we don't know yet," one senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the case said. "We just know that it was going to be a very bad attack. We don't get terrorists in this country who go get al-Qaida training and come back to attack here. That's what we were expecting was going to happen in a second wave of attacks after 9/11. So in that sense, Zazi isn't just unusual — he's scary."
The Denver airport shuttle bus driver was flown from Denver to New York on Friday. He allegedly admitted to authorities that he trained in explosives at an al-Qaida camp in Pakistan. Publicly, he has denied that he is a terrorist.
Zazi seemed to be living a rather unremarkable life in Queens until August of last year. That's when he flew to Peshawar, according to court records. While it is unclear what he did there, he allegedly told authorities he trained in weapons and explosives at an al-Qaida training camp.
Authorities began tracking Zazi when he came back to New York in January. Days later, he moved to Colorado, where his aunt and uncle lived. He told law enforcement officials that he moved there because it was cheaper than New York. He passed a background check and got a job driving a shuttle van at Denver International Airport.
Prosecutors say Zazi had three e-mail accounts. On two of them, officials say, graphics files were found of notes in his handwriting on how to manufacture and handle different kinds of explosives. The notes laid out how to mix the same kind of explosives that were used in the 2005 London train bombings.
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 buying the chemicals. They also say he went to home improvement stores in the Denver area to pick up more chemicals, and that others helped Zazi buy the products.
The Justice Department says that on Sept. 6, Zazi checked into a hotel in Aurora, Colo. The FBI tested his hotel room and found acetone residue in the vent above the stove. To make explosives, hydrogen peroxide and acetone need to be boiled down. Zazi also was apparently trying to contact another individual around the same time to get advice on concentrations of the chemicals. Law enforcement authorities have been working around the clock to find the explosives. They don't know if Zazi merely made a test bomb or whether he mixed the chemicals and stashed them somewhere between Denver and New York. Zazi left Denver in a rental car and drove to New York on Sept. 9.
In a search of three Queens apartments linked to Zazi, investigators allegedly found 16 backpacks and a number of mobile phones. Some of his associates allegedly tried to rent a large moving truck in Queens, but the clerk declined to rent it to them when they tried to pay cash and didn't want to leave their IDs.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.