Sep 27, 2009

Terror Suspect Is Transferred to New York for Trial

Published: September 25, 2009

A federal judge in Denver on Friday ordered the airport shuttle bus driver charged in a Qaeda bomb plot held without bail and, almost immediately, the United States Marshals Service flew him to the New Yorkarea, where he is to appear in a Brooklyn courtroom next week.

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Marc Piscotty/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Najibullah Zazi


From Smiling Coffee Vendor to Terror Suspect (September 26, 2009)

Terror Suspect Is Charged With Plot to Use Bombs (September 25, 2009)

Brooklyn Man Is Accused of Trying to Aid Terrorists (September 25, 2009)

Rethinking Which Terror Groups to Fear (September 27, 2009)

Document Document Reader: Court Papers in the Investigation
The Takeaway With David Johnston

A federal jet carrying the man, Najibullah Zazi, 24, landed at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey shortly before 6 p.m. In shackles, Mr. Zazi was put in a police helicopter and taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where he will be held until a hearing Tuesday morning before Judge Raymond J. Dearie of United States District Court.

Mr. Zazi was arrested in Colorado on Sept. 19 on charges that he made false statements during a terrorism investigation, ending a week of frenzied law enforcement activity in Queens and Colorado in a case several federal officials have called the most serious terrorism investigation in years.

An indictment unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday charged him with a single count of conspiring to detonate explosives. Court papers filed in the case, arguing that he be held without bail, tracked Mr. Zazi from what a prosecutor said was his explosives training in Pakistan last year and his efforts in recent weeks in a Colorado hotel to cook up the same type of home-brewed explosives used in the 2005 London transit bombings to a trip to Queens in a rental car on the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

At the hearing Friday morning in federal court in Denver, the prosecutor there, Tim Neff, an assistant United States attorney, argued that Mr. Zazi’s extensive overseas travel, and his wife in Pakistan, made him a flight risk, which was compounded by the severity of the charge against him.

Mr. Zazi, he said, was “literally off the charts in terms of the sentencing guidelines,” which would inform any court’s ultimate decision if the young man were convicted. He faces life in prison.

Appearing solemn during the proceeding, Mr. Zazi was clad in a white prison smock, and he conferred at times with his lawyers, J. Michael Dowling and Arthur Folsom, softly answering the questions put to him by Magistrate Judge Craig B. Shaffer.

Mr. Folsom argued that Mr. Zazi, who the authorities have said was warned by a Queens imam that that federal agents were looking for him and flew back to Denver on Sept. 12, was not a flight risk. He told Judge Shaffer that the young man could have gone anywhere.

“He had the option of getting on a plane and flying to Canada or Pakistan or flying to virtually anywhere else on the planet, but he got back on a plane and flew back to Colorado,” Mr. Folsom said.

Judge Shaffer, however, found that Mr. Zazi would pose a danger were he to be released, and ordered him held without bail and transferred to New York.

“I find that in this instance there is considerable evidence to suggest that there are extremely serious charges,” the judge said. “The evidence would suggest not only are there serious charges, but that this defendant played an integral part in the steps and the activities that culminated in the indictment.”

A 12-page detention memo filed with the indictment, which was voted on Wednesday, did not detail the precise timing or location of any intended target or targets. And while the document described in detail what it said were Mr. Zazi’s efforts to buy and work with the chemicals needed to make the home-brewed explosives, much remained unclear, including whether he or his confederates had built a bomb.

People briefed on the case, however, said some investigators have theorized that the young man had built a test device and detonated it somewhere in the desert around Denver, and they have been working to determine whether he had indeed done so, and, if so, where.

But there has been no question, over the last 11 days since the investigation became public, that senior federal officials in Washington, New York and Colorado viewed what they called a plot by Al Qaeda as an extremely serious threat, although it is unclear precisely when the inquiry began.

In Denver, where Mr. Zazi had been under scrutiny with several other suspects, the agent who oversees the F.B.I. field office said he believed that investigators “disrupted something really bad,” but did so before agents fully understood the scope of plot and how it was likely to unfold.

The agent, James H. Davis, said that left certain key questions unanswered, adding, “We are nowhere near done.”

Mr. Davis, who would not discuss evidence in the case, said that leading up to the arrests a week ago, virtually all the nearly 200 agents in his office worked round the clock, assisted by Denver area police and sheriff’s deputies. “I am comfortable that we are going to be able to get our arms around this thing,” he said.

Officials have hinted that more arrests were expected, but it was unclear on Friday whether any people the authorities have identified as Mr. Zazi’s associates remained at large.

“The big question is they’re trying to figure out is who’s part of the bigger network,” said Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, a former federal prosecutor and the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security intelligence subcommittee, who has been briefed on the case.

At the detention hearing, Mr. Neff reiterated that Mr. Zazi had e-mailed himself bomb-making instructions and had been shopping for the components to make the explosives, triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, from beauty supply stores.

In arguing that the judge should grant Mr. Zazi bail, Mr. Folsom cited another issue raised in the court papers: an electronic scale that investigators found in the Queens apartment where Mr. Zazi spent the night of Sept. 10, contending that it did not indicate his client had anything to do with the production of TATP.

“No traces of any kind of chemicals or production of a chemical or TATP were found in his vehicle,” he said. “No traces were found when they searched his home in Colorado.”

Traces of acetone residue, however, were found in the vent above the stove in a hotel suite kitchen where the authorities said he was heating chemicals as part of the process of making the explosives.

Before Mr. Zazi was arrested, he denied wrongdoing, saying in interviews and through his lawyers that he had no links to Al Qaeda or any terrorist plot.

Reporting was contributed by Al Baker, Dan Frosch, David Johnston and Eric Schmitt.