Arrests Made In Terrorism Probe The FBI has arrested an airport shuttle bus driver from Colorado and as many as nine others in connection with a cross-country investigation into a possible plot to bomb transportation targets in New York City. Some law enforcement officials are calling it the most serious terrorism probe since 2001.
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Arrests Made In Terrorism Probe

Najibullah Zazi arrives at the offices of the FBI in Denver for questioning on Sept. 17. FBI agents late Saturday arrested Zazi and as many as nine others, including his father. Ed Andrieski/AP hide caption

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Ed Andrieski/AP

Najibullah Zazi arrives at the offices of the FBI in Denver for questioning on Sept. 17. FBI agents late Saturday arrested Zazi and as many as nine others, including his father.

Ed Andrieski/AP

The FBI has arrested an airport shuttle bus driver from Colorado and as many as nine others in connection with a cross-country investigation into a possible plot to bomb transportation targets in New York City.

The FBI charged the Colorado man, 24-year-old Najibullah Zazi, with making false statements to federal agents in an ongoing terrorism investigation.

Zazi's arrest came late Saturday, soon after he failed to show up at the FBI's Denver offices for a fourth day of interviews. The FBI also arrested Zazi's father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, 53, in Denver; and a friend of Zazi's named Ahmad Wais Afzali, 37, of Queens, N.Y.

Zazi's father and associate were also charged with making false statements to federal agents. All three men have court appearances slated for Monday. Lying to federal agents could mean as much as eight years in prison.

In addition, two law enforcement sources with direct knowledge of the case have told NPR that seven men linked to the alleged plot were arrested in New York last week.

It is unclear what the seven men were charged with or whether Afzali was one of them. But law enforcement officials allege the men tried to rent a large U-Haul truck earlier this month. The truck rental service turned the men away when they wanted to pay cash and refused to leave identification.

When asked about the truck by the FBI, the men allegedly denied it. But a manager at the U-Haul site allegedly identified the men from an FBI photograph, sources said.

Some law enforcement officials are calling the case the most serious terrorism probe since 2001. One former law enforcement official described it as the first time since 2001 that the FBI thought they had a group that could launch a credible attack.

Zazi has said he wasn't a terrorist or part of any plot, and he has vigorously and publicly denied any connection to al-Qaida. But two senior law enforcement officials said Friday that Zazi had received explosives training from al-Qaida and was supposed to play a critical role in a bombing attack against U.S. targets. The charging documents the Justice Department released early Sunday morning said that Zazi had admitted to receiving weapons and explosives training.

"The arrests carried out tonight are part of an ongoing and fast-paced investigation," David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement Saturday night. "It is important to note that we have no specific information regarding the timing, location or target of any planned attack."

But intelligence officials say they have a good guess. The concern was that Zazi was at the core of a potential plot involving hydrogen peroxide-based explosives placed in transportation hubs around New York City.

In supporting documents filed with the court, investigators say Zazi admitted to FBI agents last week that in 2008 he received weapons and explosives training from al-Qaida in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Publicly, Zazi said the reason he had been visiting Pakistan was to visit his wife there. She lives in Peshawar, where al-Qaida has a well-known explosives training facility.

Zazi was born in Afghanistan and lived in Pakistan before moving to the United States with his family a decade ago. He lived in Queens until January, when he moved to the Denver area. Law enforcement officials had been tracking him, but grew particularly concerned when Zazi decided to rent a car and drive cross-country just before this month's anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Law enforcement officials also had been watching a group of Zazi's friends — a handful of other Afghans who were living in Queens and with whom Zazi stayed during a trip to New York. The FBI raided the apartment he stayed in and several other apartments soon after Zazi returned to Colorado. Officials have said as many as 12 additional people have been under surveillance in New York and Denver.

Authorities have not made public what they found in the raids. But one law enforcement source close to the investigation said they found 16 backpacks and a number of mobile phones, as well as a bomb-making manual and some receipts. Officials said receipts show the purchase of chemicals at home improvement stores in the Denver area. The FBI is seeking surveillance video from those stores to see if they can identify other possible suspects.

Most troubling to authorities over the past several days was the possibility that other unknown suspects might be involved and planning some sort of attack.

Police stopped Zazi on the George Washington Bridge when he visited New York. The search turned up a laptop computer that contained an image of nine pages of handwritten notes, the arresting documents said. Those notes included instructions about how to build explosives and detonators, the affidavits say.

According to the Justice Department's affidavit, agents asked Zazi about the notes, and he said he knew nothing about them. When confronted, he allegedly told federal agents that he must have unintentionally downloaded the notes along with a religious book. He said he deleted it after he discovered that it discussed jihad.

The affidavit also says the FBI intercepted a phone conversation around Sept. 11 of this year in which Afzali, one of Zazi's friends from Queens, told Zazi that he had spoken with authorities. "I was exposed to something yesterday from the authorities. And they came to ask me about your characters. They asked me about you guys," Afzali told Zazi. Afzali was arrested because he allegedly lied about that conversation when FBI agents asked him about it, the affidavit says.

Mohammed Zazi, Zazi's father, was also interviewed last week by the FBI. The affidavit says he, too, lied when asked questions related to the investigation. Agents asked him if he knew anyone by the name of Afzali. He said he didn't. But the FBI said it had a wiretapped conversation between Zazi's father and Afzali during Najibullah Zazi's visit to New York.

With the evidence they have uncovered so far, law enforcement officials say they think there was a plan afoot to do a series of train bombings similar to the March 2004 attacks in Madrid. In those attacks, terrorists used backpacks filled with homemade explosives to kill nearly 200 people and injure almost 10 times as many. While law enforcement officials have few details on the alleged U.S. plot, there certainly are striking similarities — backpacks, mobile phones, the chemicals authorities think were going to be used — to the terrorist plan in Spain five years ago.