Man faces more questioning in terror probe

September 17, 2009 9:35:46 PM PDT
A man identified by law enforcement as having a possible link to al-Qaida met with the FBI for a second day Thursday as part of a terrorism investigation in New York and Colorado. Najibullah Zazi didn't speak to reporters, but defense attorney Arthur Folsom said he did not expect his client to be arrested. If agents intended to jail Zazi, they probably would have done so already, he said.

An official familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press that Zazi had contact with a known al-Qaida associate, but would not provide details on the location or nature of the encounter. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

But the defense lawyer said Zazi has never met with al-Qaida operatives and isn't involved in terrorism.

"He's simply somebody who was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Folsom said.

Agents questioned Zazi for hours on Wednesday and searched his apartment and the home of his aunt and uncle in the Denver suburb of Aurora.

The official said agents have been monitoring Zazi and four others in Colorado as part of a terrorism investigation.

The case took a strange turn when Zazi rented a car and made a cross-country trip from Denver to New York, crossing into Manhattan last week, on the day before the Sept. 11 anniversary. He was stopped in what was described as a routine stop at the George Washington Bridge before he was allowed to go free.

A relative says Zazi chose to drive to New York because he wanted to see the American countryside. Zazi says he went to New York to resolve some issues with a coffee cart that he owns in Manhattan, but officials suspected that something more sinister might have been in the works.

FBI agents and police officers armed with search warrants seeking bomb materials searched three apartments and questioned residents in the neighborhood in Queens where he was staying.

A joint FBI-New York Police Department task force feared Zazi may be involved in a potential plot involving homemade hydrogen peroxide-based explosives like those cited in an intelligence warning issued Monday, said two other law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the investigation.

Peroxide-based explosives were used in the 2005 London subway bombings. In 2006, British authorities said they thwarted a plot to sneak such liquid-based explosives in soda bottles onto trans-Atlantic flights and blow up the planes. Three British men were convicted earlier this month in the U.K. in the plot, which led to sweeping changes that limit the amount of liquids passengers can carry onto planes.

The officials said Zazi had been put under surveillance because of the suspected al-Qaida links.

Folsom says Zazi, 24, was born in Afghanistan in 1985, moved to Pakistan at age 7 and emigrated to the United States in 1999. Zazi's aunt had said earlier that he was born in Pakistan and grew up in Queens, N.Y.

Zazi filed for bankruptcy in New York in March, while he was in the process of moving to Colorado where he had applied for a taxi driver's license. He listed an income of $800 per month as a food vendor and owed $51,000 in credit card debt and $914 to a cell phone company. The bankruptcy was finalized in August.

Folsom said Zazi has returned to Pakistan four times in recent years: in 2004 because his grandfather was sick and dying, in 2006 to get married and in 2007 and 2008 to visit his wife.

Folsom said FBI agents were cordial and asked detailed questions during the Wednesday session. He declined to give specifics.

He said Zazi is observing the traditional daylight fast for Ramadan, and that the FBI gave him food after sunset Wednesday.

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