Nightly News   |  September 26, 2009

Official: Terror suspect 'within weeks' of building bomb

Sept. 26: U.S. intelligence officials say Najibullah Zazi, was very close to pulling off a terrorist attack in New York, the city where he grew up and worked as a coffee cart vendor. NBC's Jeff Rossen reports.

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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 .

Mr. OSAMA BIN LADEN:

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 .