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FBI unit set for more anti-terror raids in Queens; Fears of Madrid-style subway bombings - sources

By James Gordon Meek In Washington and Rocco Parascandola, Alison Gendar and Larry Mcshane In New York

Updated Wednesday, September 16th 2009, 3:28 PM

The elite FBI Hostage Rescue Team is poised to make more anti-terror raids in Queens, sources told the Daily News.

Fearful of a Madrid-style subway train bombing, authorities are poised to make more raids to seize bomb-making materials at locations in Queens, sources said Wednesday.

The FBI's elite Hostage Rescue Team arrived in New York in anticipation of the offensive to thwart a Denver-based terror cell with ties to Al Qaeda, police sources told the Daily News.

Another source said an earlier raid uncovered nine backpacks and cell phones, raising memories of the March 2004 bombings in Madrid.

A series of terrorist bombs detonated aboard commuter trains killed 191 people. The source said authorities feared a potential attack on the city subway, with its 5.2 million daily riders.

FBI Director Robert Mueller, speaking at a Senate hearing Wednesday, said the plot posed "no imminent danger."

"New Yorkers are well benefited from the work of the NYPD and (Commissioner) Ray Kelly," said Mueller, offering no other details on the HRT deployment.

Najibullah Zazi, the Colorado man who triggered a rash of Queens raids Monday, was identified through e-mail, wire taps and a confidential informant as part of the plot, the source said.

Zazi, 25, told The News he had nothing to do with any terrorist activity.

"No. Of course, I'm not a terrorist," the 25-year-old Afghan national said Tuesday.

A source said Zazi, tipped while visiting Manhattan last weekend that he was under surveillance, fled back to suburban Denver.

Even as Zazi, of Aurora, Colo., professed his innocence, counterterrorism agents eyed him as part of the first suspected Al Qaeda cell they've uncovered in the U.S. since 9/11.

A bearded and barefoot Zazi, standing in the doorway of his apartment, said he's a hard-working airport shuttle driver who is married and lives with his elderly parents in the Denver suburb.

"I didn't know anything about who was following me," Zazi said of reports he is under surveillance by the FBI.

He confirmed driving to New York last week to visit friends, but denied involvement in any Al Qaeda bomb plot or terror cell.

Zazi was stopped at the George Washington Bridge on his way into the city, sources told The News. Authorities later seized his rental car from a Queens street, sources said.

In the car, sources said the feds found documents and papers about bomb-making and bombs. The massive federal response was "an indication of just how serious a threat they see this as," said Frances
Townsend, a former counterterrorism adviser to ex-President George W. Bush.

Zazi remained under constant surveillance Tuesday, the sources said.

Zazi said he and his newly hired lawyer plan to hold a press conference Wednesday.

FBI officials would not comment on The News' report that Zazi is indeed the target of their ongoing probe.

Scores of FBI agents inundated Denver Tuesday as they closed the noose on what sources say is a five-man cabal with ties to World Trade Center mastermind Osama Bin Laden's terrorist group.

One of the suspects, purportedly Zazi, recently had returned home from a trip abroad to Pakistan, where the U.S. believes a significant number of Al Qaeda's leaders live, sources said.

Multiple sources told The News the FBI believes it had uncovered an Al Qaeda cell for the first time since 9/11, prompting the unprecedented response.

"The FBI is seriously spooked about these guys," a former senior counterterrorism official told The News. "This is not some ... FBI informant-driven case. This is the real thing."

Zazi, seen last week praying and chatting with other worshipers at the Masjid Hazart Abubakr Islamic Center in Queens, was one of the quintet under intense scrutiny, sources said.

Known around the mosque as "Naji," he ran a coffee and doughnut cart in Manhattan before moving to Colorado earlier this year.

"I left New York because it's hard to live there; the rent is too expensive," said Zazi, who was born in eastern Afghanistan and moved here as a child.

His Queens home was in the same Flushing neighborhood where FBI agents swarmed into three apartments Monday, bashing down doors and carrying search warrants seeking bomb-making materials.

"I didn't know what he was up to," said mosque President Abdulrahman Jalili, 58, after he was contacted by the FBI about Zazi. "Islam is against terrorism. It is a religion of peace."

Red flags about an impending attack went up last week when Zazi visited with several people in a single day, combined with worrisome information collected from wiretaps, sources said.

The Queens apartment raids were triggered by the Denver investigation, Zazi's New York visit and the timing of the upcoming UN General Assembly.

New York authorities also detained several men - later released - in a hunt for bomb-making components, explosive powders and fuses.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said unspecified material was seized from the apartments and shipped for analysis.

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