Image: Man alleged to be Zazi in beauty supply store
This image from a security video aired by CNN shows a man believed to be Najibullah Zazi shopping at Beauty Supply Warehouse in Aurora, Colo.
NBC News and news services
updated 9/26/2009 7:45:52 PM ET 2009-09-26T23:45:52

Claims that an Afghan immigrant was on the verge of unleashing a terrorist attack on New York City on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 are missing a key element: explosives or the chemicals allegedly used to make them, the man's attorney said.

FBI agents have yet to find those elements and connect them to Najibullah Zazi, charged with conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction in a plot authorities say was aimed at commuter trains, attorney Arthur Folsom told a federal judge in Denver Friday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Craig Shaffer ultimately ordered Zazi's transfer to New York, and Zazi was taken there by federal marshals.

"No traces of any kind of chemical was found in his vehicle," Folsom said of an FBI search of Zazi's car.

A federal prosecutor argued that Zazi was planning an attack to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary.

"The evidence suggests a chilling, disturbing sequence of events showing the defendant was intent on making a bomb and being in New York on 9/11, for purposes of perhaps using such items," prosecutor Tim Neff told Shaffer.

Zazi was stopped by police on Sept. 10 as he entered New York, and he dropped his plans for an attack once he realized that law enforcement was on to him, prosecutors allege.

He was sent to New York on Friday by federal marshals to face charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

Prosecutors said Zazi received explosives training from al-Qaida in Pakistan and returned to the U.S. bent on building a bomb.

Trips to beauty supply stores
Over the summer, he and three associates went from one beauty-supply store to another in a Denver suburb buying chemicals to make explosives like those that killed dozens of people in transit bombings in London and Madrid, investigators said.

At least three and possibly more of his accomplices remain at large, and investigators have been fanning out across New York in pursuit of suspects. Authorities have also issued a flurry of terrorism warnings for sports complexes, hotels and transit systems.

A law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation said associates of Zazi visited Colorado to help him buy the chemicals using stolen credit cards before returning to New York.

Another law enforcement official said that authorities had been especially worried about Zazi's Sept. 10 visit to the city because it coincided with a visit by President Barack Obama. Police considered arresting him right away. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation continues.

Police have been especially active in the neighborhood in Queens where Zazi visited during his New York trip, staying at an apartment with a group of cab drivers and food cart operators he knows.

Zazi ran a coffee cart in Manhattan before moving to Denver this year and getting a job as an airport shuttle driver.

FBI raids beginning Sept. 14 rattled a quiet, predominantly Asian neighborhood in Queens. Muslim men said dozens of FBI agents ransacked their homes and questioned them for hours, sometimes taking DNA samples and prints from their shoes.

Because of frequent visits by police, fewer people have been attending regular services at the Masjid Hazrat Abu Bakr mosque. Zazi had returned there to pray during his brief return trip to the city earlier this month.

The FBI has also been visiting beauty shops and home-improvement stores in Colorado and New York for details about the alleged bomb-making purchases.

Court papers say that during the summer, Zazi and three unidentified associates bought "unusually large quantities" of hydrogen peroxide and acetone — a flammable solvent found in nail-polish remover — from Denver-area beauty supply stores. The products had names such as Ion Sensitive Scalp Developer and Ms. K Liquid 40 Volume.

Zazi also searched the Web site of a Queens home-improvement store for another ingredient needed to make a compound called TATP (triacetone triperoxide), the explosives used by shoe bomber Richard Reid and the terrorists who carried out the London bombings that killed more than 50 people, according to court papers.

Zazi intensified his bomb-making experiments this month, cooking up substances in a Colorado hotel suite he rented on Sept. 6-7 before driving 1,600 miles to New York over the course of about two days. He became aware that law enforcement was onto him when he was stopped entering the city on Sept. 10, causing the plot to unravel.

Neff said Zazi "was in the throes of making a bomb and attempting to perfect his formulation."

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority — which runs New York City's subway system, buses and commuter rails — declined to comment on the revelation of a Sept. 11-timed plot. It reissued a statement from earlier in the week that it has boosted its police presence at "key commuter rail locations" since the terror threat became public.

The plot has also cast the spotlight on the everyday chemicals that are used in hair salons around the country but also can have a more sinister purpose.

Authorities scouring New York
Federal agents and police officers in New York visited up to 200 locations a day in the area during the probe, including beauty-supply stores, extended-stay hotels that have rooms with kitchens, hardware stores, truck rental agencies and storage facilities.

Zazi sat expressionless during the Denver court hearing, staring at a decanter on the defense table. He has denied being a terrorist since he was arrested last week.

Zazi "still maintains that he was not part of a terrorist cell," defense attorney Arthur Folsom told The Associated Press on Friday. Folsom also insisted that federal agents who searched Zazi's car and apartment found no trace of explosives.

Ken Deal, chief deputy marshal in Denver, said Zazi was put on a government plane Friday and flown out of southern Denver's Centennial Airport. He was scheduled to appear in federal court Tuesday in Brooklyn on charges that carry a life sentence.

A government request to deny bail laid out a chronology of the alleged scheme, which prosecutors said had been in the works for more than a year.

Video: Terror suspect sent to N.Y. Security video and receipts show that some of the purchases were made near the Colorado hotel, according to court papers. On Sept. 6 and 7, Zazi checked into a suite at the hotel with a kitchen and a stove, the papers say, and tried to contact an unidentified associate "seeking to correct mixtures of ingredients to make explosives."

"Zazi repeatedly emphasized in the communications that he needed the answers right away," the papers said, adding that each communication was "more urgent than the last."

Beauty supply store employees in New York and the Denver suburbs said authorities had been asking whether anyone had come in buying a lot of hydrogen peroxide or acetone.

At Beauty Supply Warehouse in suburban Denver, Paul Phillips said a co-worker told investigators he had sold chemicals to Zazi. Company President Karan Hoss said the firm turned over security video of a man matching Zazi's description to the FBI. A check of sales found that someone bought a dozen 32-ounce bottles of a hydrogen peroxide product in July. More was purchased in late August, Hoss said.

More on: Najibullah Zazi

NBC's Robert Windrem and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Official: Terror suspect 'within weeks' of building bomb

  1. Transcript of: Official: Terror suspect 'within weeks' of building bomb

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: Now to the latest in the alleged terror plot targeting New York City . The suspect is set to appear in court here in New York on Tuesday, but tonight we're learning more about how close he may have come to pulling off an attack. NBC 's Jeff Rossen now with the latest.

    JEFF ROSSEN reporting: Back in his hometown, Najibullah Zazi returned to New York City under heavy protection. US intelligence officials say Zazi was close to pulling off an attack here in the city where he grew up and worked as a coffee cart vendor.

    Mr. MICHAEL SHEEHAN (NBC News Terrorism Analyst): Zazi could have been within weeks away from putting together a bomb.

    ROSSEN: Zazi most recently lived in Denver , where investigators say he was caught on surveillance tape buying gallons of chemicals at a local beauty supply shop.

    Mr. RON KARAHAS (Beauty Supply Shop Owner): His half-joking response was, `Oh, I have a lot of girlfriends.'

    ROSSEN: On September 6th , Zazi checked into a hotel in a Denver suburb, where he allegedly mixed the ingredients. On September 10th , federal agents were watching as he headed into New York , they say to launch the attack to coincide with the September 11th anniversary. Counterterrorism officials call Zazi their worst nightmare, a homegrown suspect who knows the city, blends in and can travel in and out of the country legally.

    Mr. SHEEHAN: He's a New Yorker who ran a coffee cart. He's a nice guy , a smart guy , an articulate guy, an engaging person. This is someone you would never suspect is a terrorist, and those are the worst kind.

    ROSSEN: Investigators say behind the scenes Zazi was plotting after receiving al-Qaeda explosives training in Pakistan .


    ROSSEN: Just this week Osama bin Laden released an audiotape threatening European countries as Germany holds elections. And in the US, two other

    arrests: Michael Finton is accused of driving what he thought was a car bomb to a federal building in Illinois , and Hosam Smadi was arrested for placing what he thought was a bomb at a 60-story office building in Dallas .

    Mr. ROGER CRESSEY (NBC News Terrorism Analyst): There's no direct links between any of the recent arrests, but it demonstrates a broader threat, one that still emanates from al-Qaeda in Pakistan as well as with self-starters inside the United States .

    ROSSEN: Prosecutors claim Zazi 's plot was well advanced, but his lawyer says authorities never found explosives in Zazi 's home or his car.

    Mr. ARTHUR FOLSOM (Zazi's Attorney): I didn't believe that there was reason to keep him detained. But given the high profile nature of this case, the ruling was not a surprise to anyone.

    ROSSEN: Najibullah Zazi remains in a New York City jail cell awaiting a court appearance Tuesday. Jeff Rossen , NBC News , New York .


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments