MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
President Obama is in New York today, meeting with FBI agents who helped derail an alleged terrorist plot. The man at the center of their case, Najibullah Zazi, was arrested last month. He's in federal prison in Manhattan, accused of conspiring to blow up targets in the U.S. Zazi has pleaded not guilty. And for weeks now, law enforcement officials have said more arrests are coming, but nothing has happened.
NPR's Dina Temple-Raston explains why.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: For all the questions surrounding the alleged New York plot, the one thing prosecutors seem convinced of is that the main suspect, Najibullah Zazi, wasn't working alone. The FBI has been fairly upfront about who it thinks the co-conspirators might be. Public statements leave little doubt. They think others are involved. Court papers say that when Zazi shopped for the chemicals he needed allegedly to build a bomb, he wasn't shopping alone. According to officials, when he began mixing the chemicals, he messaged others for advice. And, last year, when Zazi traveled to Pakistan, allegedly to train with al-Qaida, the court papers claim he took other men with him. And yet, Zazi is the only suspect in the case behind bars.
Mr. KEN WAINSTEIN (Former Assistant Attorney General for National Security): There are a lot of reasons why someone might not be arrested as soon as the evidence sort of meets the threshold of probable cause which is sufficient to make an arrest.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Ken Wainstein used to head up the Justice Department's national security division during the Bush administration.
Mr. WAINSTEIN: Once you arrest somebody, that person is off the street, has dried up basically, as an intelligence source for law enforcement.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Wainstein says the lack of additional arrests doesn't mean there's no evidence. Instead, it's more likely to be a strategy to make sure all the plotters are caught. Sam Rascoff, who used to work on the intelligence squad at the New York Police Department, agrees.
Mr. SAM RASCOFF (Former Member, New York Police Department Intelligence Squad): Part of what the government is doing is waiting and seeing who they might be in contact with, who they might be touching base with, who they might be receiving e-mails from and so on and so forth.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Rascoff says right after the 9/11 attacks, law enforcement was all about arrests. Now, he says, the calculations are more nuanced. And law enforcements close to the Zazi case tell NPR that's what's going on here. Among the questions they still want to answer: Where are the explosives? Who else was involved? And was Zazi in charge?
So the assumption that the evidence is thin is not necessarily a good assumption?
Mr. RASCOFF: Certainly not. The government may well have a robust case against these guys already, but is looking to widen its understanding of this conspiracy and who might have taken part in it.
TEMPLE-RASTON: That was Sam Rascoff, the former NYPD official. At one point in the early days of the case, law enforcement told NPR they had more than a dozen people connected to Zazi under constant surveillance. The FBI has extensively interviewed at least three people in the New York area alone. Agents searched their apartments, too. One of them is a former high school friend of Zazi's named Adis Medunjanin. He's originally from Bosnia and is a naturalized citizen. According to his attorney, Robert Gottlieb, the FBI interviewed him for 14 hours about the case. Gottlieb wouldn't characterize what his client talked to the FBI about, but he did say law enforcement clearly is interested in him.
Mr. ROBERT GOTTLIEB (Defense Attorney, New York): I know as a defense attorney, having done this for many years, that the government, the FBI certainly suspects that he could have been involved. That of course is not a substitute for proof. It's not a substitute for evidence.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Gottlieb says he told his client he should just assume he's under constant surveillance and just because he hasn't been arrested yet, Gottlieb told him, it doesn't mean he won't be.
Mr. GOTTLIEB: But because an arrest has not been made, I think it's unwise for anyone ever to conclude that because of a certain number of days that have passed that therefore there is no longer any danger.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Of an arrest.
Mr. GOTTLIEB: Of an arrest.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Officials close to the case say they have no timeline for when the other arrests might happen. One law enforcement official said quote, "we aren't in any rush."
Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.