FBI Arrests Three Men in Terror Plot that Targeted New York
Documents Allege NYPD Informant Went Bad, Tipped Off Subjects to Surveillance
By BRIAN ROSS, RICHARD ESPOSITO and CLAYTON SANDELL
Sept. 20, 2009—
The FBI arrested three men overnight on charges they lied to federal agents during an investigation of a terror plot against New York City that authorities say was "the real deal."
Agents in Denver arrested Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year old airport shuttle driver, who authorities say appears to be the ringleader of the alleged plot. Also charged with lying to the FBI was Zazi's father, Mohammed Zazi.
In New York, the FBI arrested the leader of a Queens mosque, Ahmad Afzali, who authorities allege had been a New York police department informant but "went bad" and tipped off Zazi, his father and others to the investigation.
Afzali's alleged double cross compromised the case and led the FBI to move in on the suspects much earlier than they had wanted and led to extreme tensions between the Denver office of the FBI and the NYPD. One law enforcement official said the NYPD had been specifically asked not to reveal the investigation to its informants, but went ahead anyway.
In affidavits filed in connection with the arrests, agents say they discovered nine pages of handwritten notes in Zazi's computer with details on how to make a homemade bomb.
According to the affidavit, Zazi initially denied knowing anything about the notes when he was shown them by the FBI during a three day interrogation.
Later, Zazi admitted the notes were his and that he attended an al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan and received instructions on weapons and explosives.
Law enforcement and intelligence officials say the case began in 2008 when the CIA twice picked up on Zazi's presence in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, a place often used by al Qaeda to arrange meetings with foreigners.
Zazi maintained publicly that he had no ties to al Qaeda and had gone to Peshawar only to visit his wife.
According to the FBI affidavits, Zazi went to Peshawar in Aug. 2008 and again in Jan. 2009.
Law enforcement officials told ABCNews.com that electronic intercepts revealed Zazi had sent text messages suggesting, in code, the plot was nearing the attack stage. "The wedding cake is ready," Zazi allegedly wrote.
The three men are scheduled to appear in court Monday morning on the charges, which authorities say are designed to keep them in custody while more serious charges are considered.
At 9:30pm Saturday, six black SUV's with red and blue flashing lights rushed into a suburban housing complex in Aurora, Colorado, and a group of FBI agents climbed three flights to Zazi's apartment.
The officers remained inside for about five minutes. They first brought out Zazi's father, in handcuffs, escorted by two agents, and placed him in a waiting vehicle. Next, Najibullah Zazi , in handcuffs, surrounded by agents, was brought down, placed in a second car and the caravan sped off.
Zazi had been scheduled to spend a fourth day Saturday being questioned by the FBI but his lawyer canceled the session.
"He has taken the day to consult with his client," Aiello said.
Late Saturday night, Aiello said of Najibullah and Muhommed Zazi's arrests, "Their attorney, Arthur Folsom, is with them at FBI offices in Denver, Colorado. Specific charges are unavailable at this time."
Zazi's arrival in New York last week triggered a series of raids by the FBI and New York City police intended to disrupt what authorities described as "a real deal" attempt to attack targets in New York.
Zazi, who initially denied any ties to al Qaeda, later admitted connections to the terror group and told FBI interrogators he had received explosives training at a terror camp in Pakistan.
Computer Shows NYC Research
A computer belonging to Zazi showed he had researched baseball and football stadiums and sites used in the recent Fashion Week event in New York City, law enforcement officials tell ABCNews.com. While officials say they do not know the targets of the alleged plot, the contents of Zazi's computer are considered a valuable insight into what he might have been planning.
The officials said text messages sent by Zazi suggest the plot was nearing the attack phase. One message said the "wedding cake is ready," which authorities say may have been code to indicate the attack was ready. Al Qaeda operatives have frequently used references to weddings to disguise planned terror attacks.
Zazi's lawyer, Arthur Folsom, said his client was cooperating fully with the FBI during his long interrogation sessions. Folsom told ABCNews.com "no deal has been offered," but authorities say Zazi is preparing a "proffer" of information he would be prepared to testify about as part of a plea negotiation.
Zazi's computer was copied, or "mirrored," by FBI agents last weekend without Zazi's knowledge. His lawyer said the agents probably made the copy after towing away Zazi's car on an purported parking violation. The computer was in the car, and Zazi told his lawyer he discovered it had been tampered with when he retrieved the car at a police lot.
Authorities who have been briefed on elements of the alleged plot said it was a "varsity level" plan similar in scope to the 2005 attacks on London's subways and busses.
Discovery of 14 Backpacks
A recipe for homemade explosives found on Zazi's computer would have produced a bomb of the same size and type used in London, authorities said.
The suicide bombers in London used backpacks and plastic containers to carry the explosive mixtures.
Raids in New York led to the discovery of 14 new backpacks.
FBI agents in New York, Denver and other U.S. locations are "working around the clock" on the investigation, according to Attorney General Eric Holder.
The New York Daily News reported Saturday that seven New York men with ties to Zazi had unsuccessfully attempted to rent a large rental truck on Sept. 10, the day before Zazi arrived from Denver.
This story has been updated.
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