NEW YORK — A Colorado man denied Tuesday that he's a central figure in a terrorism investigation that fed fears of a possible bomb plot and led to several police raids in New York City.
Najibullah Zazi told The Associated Press at his home outside Denver that he recently visited New York City and was driving a rental car when he was stopped by authorities Sept. 10 on the George Washington Bridge, which connects New York City and New Jersey. But he said after officers searched the vehicle, he was allowed to leave and return to suburban Denver.
"All I can say is that I have no idea what it is all about," Zazi said.
Two law enforcement officials confirmed Tuesday that a joint FBI-New York Police Department task force had put Zazi — a 24-year-old airport shuttle driver who a relative says recently traveled to Pakistan — under surveillance because of suspected links to al-Qaida.
The task force also 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 the officials, who were not authorized to speak about the investigation and insisted on anonymity.
A surprise raid
After Zazi traveled to New York City over the weekend, FBI agents and police officers armed with search warrants seeking bomb materials staged a surprise raid that rattled an urban, predominantly Asian neighborhood in a remote part of Queens. Investigators searched three apartments and questioned residents, including an Afghan immigrant who grew up with him in New York City.
But no arrests were announced, and elected officials briefed on the probe said there was no imminent threat. But the FBI and NYPD have since refused to discuss the case, leaving unanswered questions about the nature, scope and intent of the potential plot.
The FBI and Homeland Security intelligence warning, issued to police departments, lists indicators that could tip off police to the peroxide-based bombs, such as people with burn marks on their hands, face or arms; foul odors coming from a room or building; and large industrial fans or multiple window fans.
The warning, obtained by The Associated Press, also said that these homemade explosive materials can be hidden in backpacks, suitcases or plastic containers.
In an interview, Zazi said he was the subject of interest in the case but denied he is being investigated.
"I spent two days in New York, flew back, and I have nothing else to say," he said. "I am an airport driver and that's all I can say."
Zazi's aunt, Rabia Zazi, 35, confirmed in a separate interview that her nephew recently visited the Peshawar region of Pakistan — where she said he has a bride whom he married several years ago and whom he hopes to bring to the United States.
She said Zazi was born in Pakistan but moved to the United States at an early age and grew up in Queens. He moved to Colorado several months ago to help his father with his shuttle business, she said.
‘He doesn't have time. He's working’
Rabia Zazi told the AP she didn't know what the fuss was about with Najibullah Zazi and had not spoken to him about it.
Asked if there was any reason to suspect him of any kind of illegal activity, she insisted: "He doesn't have time. He's working."
In Queens, Naiz Khan said the FBI questioned him for about two hours about Zazi, whom he grew up with in New York. He said his friend, who used to operate a coffee truck in New York, said he had a problem with his truck permit and stayed at his apartment last Thursday night.
"I can't tell. I don't know" about a connection between Zazi and terrorism, Khan said. "If there is, I'm not sure."
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly declined to say whether arrests were pending.
"Warrants were executed. Material was obtained during the execution of those warrants, that material is now being analyzed, and we'll see what develops from the analysis," Kelly told the AP Tuesday.
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