Image: Najibullah Zazi
Marc Piscotty  /  Getty Images
Najibullah Zazi arrives at the federal building in Denver on Thursday for questioning by the FBI. He was questioned again on Friday.
NBC News and news services
updated 9/18/2009 9:41:57 PM ET 2009-09-19T01:41:57

A man under investigation in a terrorism probe in New York and Denver has indicated he is associated with al-Qaida and played a key role in a planned terror attack, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Friday.

Najibullah Zazi's attorney says he has never met with al-Qaida operatives and isn't involved in terrorism. Zazi completed a third day of questioning by FBI agents in Denver Friday but was not under arrest. More questioning was expected Saturday.

The intelligence official in Washington told The Associated Press that Zazi has indicated that he is directly linked with al-Qaida. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence matters, said Zazi played a crucial role in an intended terrorist attack but that it was not immediately clear what the targets were.

The official went on to say that the plot was being directed from outside the United States.

Zazi has undergone hours of questioning this week, and his apartment and his uncle and aunt's home in suburban Denver have been searched.

Authorities have not said what they found and have made no public statements on the investigation.

Zazi hasn't been arrested, and his attorney, Arthur Folsom, says he doesn't expect him to be.

NBC News reported that the FBI had Zazi under surveillance for months and feared an attack on the U.S. The FBI also searched apartments in New York that he visited, and discovered a laptop computer that contained plans for making bombs, NBC reported. No bombs were found in the searches in Denver or New York.

Zazi admitted to attending a terror training camp in Pakistan, where the FBI believes he may have had contact with members of al-Qaida, NBC reported.

Links to al-Qaida?
Another official familiar with the investigation told the AP on Thursday that Zazi had contact with a known al-Qaida associate. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, would not provide details on the location or nature of the encounter.

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

Image: Attorney for Najibullah Zazi
Ed Andrieski  /  AP
Arthur Folsom, attorney for Najibullah Zazi, gets into a vehicle to be driven to the FBI offices on Friday in Denver.

FBI agents in Denver questioned Zazi's father, Mohammed Zazi, on Friday about his son's background, said attorney Armstrong Graham.

Asked by reporters if his son was frightened, Mohammed Zazi said: "If you don't have anything, why would you be scared?" He refused to answer more questions.

FBI spokeswoman Kathy Wright said she couldn't comment. It wasn't immediately known whether Mohammed Zazi was one of the four others in Colorado being monitored by the FBI.

Najibullah Zazi's attorney, Arthur Folsom, says his client 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 Thursday.

Folsom told The Denver Post the agents aren't repeating questions to Zazi but are asking different things.

"They are going through things — the best I can describe it is chronologically. Covering all the bases," Folsom said.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder insisted Friday there was no immediate danger.

"There are no imminent threats, on the basis of what we have uncovered," Holder told reporters in Minneapolis. "The FBI is working this case around the clock in both cities and in other parts of the country. And we will make sure that if there are crimes that were committed that they will be charged and people will be held accountable."

Warning on bomb materials
Najibullah Zazi is a driver for an airport shuttle service in Denver. Authorities say he rented a car and drove from Denver to New York, crossing into Manhattan the day before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

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

FBI agents and police officers 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 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.

Federal intelligence officers have sent state and local officials details about different hydrogen peroxide-based explosives.

Three separate memos, dated Sept. 16 and obtained by The Associated Press, include descriptions about how to identify specific combinations of explosives: hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, hydrogen peroxide and organic fuel mixtures, and triacetone triperoxide. Each memo states that these explosives could be used in "an attack against the United States" and can be made at home.

Folsom said 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, New York City.

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.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Target of probe reportedly admits to terrorist training

  1. Closed captioning of: Target of probe reportedly admits to terrorist training

    >> conversation on mess.

    >>> there is late breaking news on the terrorist investigation that stretched from here in new york to the rocky mountains . authorities are questioning a man at the base of the investigation. they now believe they might have disrupted what could have been a dangerous terrorism cell. pete williams in our washington news room gathering details on this story. good evening.

    >> reporter: for months officials had an immigrant from afghanistan under surveillance faring he was planning an attack in the u.s. tonight, officials say he's beginning to talk. the case burst into public view this week. police and fbi agents searched apartments in new york . he drove a rented car to new york late last week faring he could be planning a terrorist attack . in the rented car, agents found a laptop computer with instructures for making bombs. no explosives were found. since wednesday, he's been interviewed for hours by the fbi. tonight, officials say while he denies planning to stage attacks in the u.s., he admits attending a terror training camp in afghanistan. he had contacts with al qaeda there. an intense investigation is underway. agents checked several denver hardware stores to see if he bought any ingredients in the laptop. they were advised to look for sig signs passengers may have handled the ingredients. his parents say he's no terrorist. now, they say he's telling a different story.

    >> it's important to emphasize, no charges have been filed.

    >> one aspect of the case that put a certain bit of fear in investigators, correct me if i'm wrong, they found several backpacks in his possession. more than the normal person would have. wasn't it london and madrid where backpacks were used by the bombers?

    >> reporter: that's right. they found over a dozen backpacks in the london search. they don't know what he had in mind.

    >> all right, pete williams who continues to follow this in our washington news room. pete, thanks.

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