Zazi Indicted for Plotting Terror Attack

Two police officers speak to each other inside Grand Central Station, Sept. 22, 2009 in New York. AP Photo/Jason DeCrow

Last updated at 6:30 p.m. Eastern

Terror suspect Najibullah Zazi plotted for more than a year to detonate homemade bombs in the United States, had recently bought bomb-making supplies from beauty supply stores and was looking for "urgent" help in the past two weeks to make explosives, an indictment charged Thursday.

Najibullah Zazi - a 24-year-old airport shuttle driver who authorities said received explosives and weapons training from al Qaeda during a trip to Pakistan last year - was charged in New York with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

The government has also asked the court for permanent detention, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr.

"It looks now like the feds charged Zazi over the weekend with lying to federal agents just to get him off the streets, to get him into custody, and that it took a few days for them to feel secure about bringing this much more serious charge. This charge now becomes the centerpiece of the case," said CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen.

His arrest in Denver a week ago on charges that he lied to terrorism investigators sparked home and business searches in New York and Denver, as well as a flurry of national warnings of on transit, sports and entertainment complexes.

Authorities hadn't determined a time and place of a possible attack, and Attorney General Eric Holder said in Washington, "We believe any imminent threat arising from this case has been disrupted."

Zazi is expected to be transferred to federal court in New York to face the new charge. His court appearance in Denver was continued until Friday.

"The new charge guarantees that Zazi will not be released pending trial and it's important to remember that we still may see more charges here, including a terror support charge, once more information is known. But right now Zazi is looking at life in prison without parole if he's convicted and gets the maximum sentence," Cohen said.

Zazi's complete indictment
Zazi's detention motion

Zazi has publicly denied any terrorist plotting. Authorities say Zazi may have been plotting with others to detonate backpack bombs on New York trains in a scheme similar to the attacks on the London subway and Madrid's rail system in the last few years. Backpacks and cell phones were seized in raids on apartments Zazi visited in New York.

In court documents released Thursday, the Justice Department says Zazi and unnamed others purchased "large quantities of hydrogen peroxide and acetone products from beauty supply stores in the Denver metropolitan area," reports Orr. The government says evidence including surveillance videos will prove Zazi and the others made repeated purchases of the chemicals over the last three months.

An anonymous law enforcement official said some associates of Zazi traveled to Colorado to help him buy the chemicals using stolen credit cards.

Hydrogen peroxide and acetone are key ingredients for making homemade explosives, reports Orr. Those chemicals have been used in the past for various terrorist attacks and attempts including the London transit in 2005 and the ill-fated Richard Reid shoe-bomb plot in 2001.

On September 6 and 7, prosecutors say Zazi rented a hotel suite with a kitchen near his Aurora, Colorado home. The FBI later found "...acetone residue in the vent above the stove" - evidence suggesting Zazi may have been mixing or heating the chemicals, Orr reports.

Law enforcement officials have recorded conversations in which Zazi says "I'm going for the wedding and I have the ingredients for the cake" - a code authorities believe referenced bomb-building components, reports the CBS News Investigative Unit.

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But the defense will likely argue, among other things that hydrogen peroxide, for example, has perfectly legal uses, said Cohen.

"But these sorts of arguments have been tried before, and have failed before, in terror-related cases since 9/11," he noted.

The court documents reveal other details.

The airport shuttle driver began plotting to "use one or more weapons of mass destruction" between Aug. 1, 2008, and September 2009 against the United States, the papers say.

The document says that on Sept. 6 and Sept. 7, Zazi tried on multiple times to communicate with another individual "seeking to correct mixtures of ingredients to make explosives."

"Each communication," the papers say, was "more urgent than the last."

CBS News has also learned that Zazi has been on law enforcement's radar for at least two years. One source says that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents in New York pulled Zazi's "alien file" back in 2007, indicating authorities' suspicions about him, reports the CBS news Investigative Unit.

Court documents do not identify any conspirators or targets and shed no light on the scale of Zazi's intended plot, reports Orr. But, the newly revealed evidence coupled with the discovery of backpacks and cell phones in the recent Queens raids add to the suspicion that Zazi and his partners were working on developing portable bombs for use against multiple targets.

The FBI continues to for other potential conspirators and a possible cache of explosive materials. No new arrests have been announced.

Ahmad Wais Afzali, a New York imam, was also charged with lying to investigators but was released on $1.5 million bond put up by his parents, brother and wife after a court appearance in Brooklyn, reports CBS News' Ariel Bashi. He will be electronically monitored and only permitted to go to his mosque and funeral home

Afzali's attorney, Ron Kuby, denied that his client - who authorities said helped tip Zazi off with a phone call that investigators had been asking about him - knew anything about a plot.

"Obviously, the government would not be consenting to bail if it thought he was involved in a terrorism conspiracy," he said.

A second, unrelated indictment unsealed Thursday in the same court charged a Brooklyn man with supporting terrorism in what authorities say is an investigation. An indictment alleges Betim Kaziu traveled to Pakistan this year to try to receive training from a militant group linked to al Qaeda, and tried to go to Afghanistan and Iraq to fight against U.S. forces there.

Kaziu was to be arraigned later Thursday. Prosecutors did not have the name of his attorney.

In two unrelated terrorism cases elsewhere around the country Thursday:

Michael C. Finton, a 29-year-old man who idolized American-born Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh, was arrested after attempting to detonate what he thought was a bomb inside a van outside a federal courthouse in Springfield, Ill., officials said. FBI agents had infiltrated the alleged plot months ago.

• Two North Carolina men under arrest since July on international terrorism charges were also accused by prosecutors of plotting to kill U.S. military personnel.
  • CBSNews

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