A federal grand jury in New York indicted a Denver man on a terrorism charge Thursday after federal authorities alleged that he and possibly three others had gone on a buying spree of bomb-making chemicals and were preparing an attack on U.S. soil.
The one-count indictment alleges that Najibullah Zazi, 24, worked for more than a year on a plot to detonate a weapon of mass destruction.
Justice Department documents did not name the alleged co-conspirators, but said that three other Denver-area residents had bought unusual amounts of chemicals from beauty-supply stores, including hydrogen peroxide and acetone, which can be used to make explosives.
In all, authorities are searching for at least a dozen people for questioning in what they describe as the first Al Qaeda-linked plot on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“Zazi remained committed to detonating an explosive device up until the date of his arrest” last Saturday evening, nine days after he arrived in New York City, allegedly to meet with others involved in the plot, according to a Justice Department document.
The document was part of a motion also unsealed Thursday to keep Zazi detained in Colorado without bail. A federal judge agreed, setting the stage for Zazi’s transfer to New York to face the terrorism charge.
While Zazi was ordered held, his father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, 53, and Ahmad Wais Afzali, a 37-year-old Queens imam and New York police informant, were ordered released on bail. They were arrested along with Zazi on charges of lying to authorities in the intensive terrorism investigation.
“We will continue to work around the clock to ensure that anyone involved is brought to justice,” said Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. in announcing the indictment. “We believe any imminent threat arising from this case has been disrupted, but as always, we remind the American public to be vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to law enforcement.”
In the last three weeks, Zazi sought “urgent” help in making homemade bombs, according to the detention motion. On Sept. 6 and 7, he allegedly tried multiple times to communicate with another person “seeking to correct mixtures of ingredients to make explosives.”
“Each communication,” the detention motion alleged, was “more urgent in tone than the last.”
Prosecutors said that Zazi had traveled overseas to receive bomb-making instructions and had done extensive Internet research on the components of explosive devices.
They said that on multiple occasions before he arrived in New York City on Sept. 10, Zazi had bought unusually large amounts of components that are used to make TATP (triacetone triperoxide) or other homemade explosives.
TATP is the explosive used in the 2005 London train bombings that killed more than 50 people. It was also intended for use in other Al Qaeda-linked plots, including a 2005 plan to blow up a jetliner traveling from London to the United States and a 2001 plan by Briton Richard Reid to detonate a shoe bomb on a similar flight.
The government alleged that three still-unidentified people purchased unusual quantities of hydrogen peroxide or acetone from beauty-supply stores in the Denver area.
Zazi went twice to the Beauty Supply Warehouse in Aurora, Colo., to purchase highly concentrated hydrogen-peroxide-based products, said Karan Hoss, chief executive of the beauty-supply chain.
Zazi bought 12 bottles of Clairoxide on July 25 and six bottles of Ms. K Liquid 40 Volume on Aug. 28, Hoss said.
Hoss said his employees didn’t realize the significance of the purchases until FBI agents visited earlier this month asking questions about anyone who’d made large purchases of hydrogen peroxide. He said they supplied tape and equipment from 48 cameras mounted throughout the store, and agents spotted Zazi.
“Forty-eight cameras in a beauty-supply store is not common. I’m glad we invested the money and were able to provide the evidence, assuming this guy is guilty,” Hoss said. “It gives me some comfort. . . . Thank God for good technology and good camera systems.”
Authorities also said that they found evidence that Zazi had heated the chemicals on the stove of an Aurora apartment he had rented. Authorities said in court documents that notes on bomb-making found on Zazi’s laptop computer discussed heating the chemicals to make them more concentrated.
The documents said that Zazi’s fingerprints were on a small electronic scale and batteries like those often used in making homemade bombs.
In public statements, Zazi has denied being part of any terrorist plot. But the FBI alleges that he admitted under questioning to receiving explosives and weapons training by Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan that are considered to be the headquarters for the terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden.
Prosecutors said Thursday that several others had traveled with Zazi to Pakistan last year, suggesting that they too might have received Al Qaeda weapons and explosives training.
FBI agents in Colorado first arrested Zazi on Sept. 19, after prosecutors filed a criminal complaint charging him with knowingly and willfully making false statements to the FBI in a matter involving international and domestic terrorism.
The arrests came after the FBI raided numerous locations in New York and Colorado, looking for evidence of explosives and other suspects. Federal agents are still poring over evidence seized in those raids, including computers and cellphones.
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security in recent days have sent out a flurry of alerts, warning authorities around the country to be on the lookout for such explosives and any evidence of a possible attack on mass transit, sports arenas or entertainment complexes.
DeeDee Correll in Denver contributed to this report.
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Beauty supplies and bombs
Authorities allege that Najibulla Zazi and other terrorism suspects purchased beauty products to obtain hydrogen peroxide and acetone, chemicals used in making explosives. In court papers filed Thursday, authorities detailed what they said was the link to beauty products:
“During July and August 2009, Zazi and others associated with Zazi purchased unusually large quantities of hydrogen peroxide and acetone products from beauty supply stores in the Denver metropolitan area. Surveillance videos and receipts reflect that on July 25, 2009, Zazi purchased six bottles of Liquid Developer Clairoxide from a beauty supply store in Aurora. This product contains high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide.”
“The videos and receipts also establish that on Aug. 28, 2009, Zazi purchased 12 32-ounce bottles of Ms. K Liquid 40 Volume -- another hydrogen peroxide-based product -- from the same store.”
“The evidence will further establish that individuals associated with Zazi purchased unusual quantities of hydrogen and acetone products in July, August and September 2009 from three different beauty supply stores in and around Aurora. One person purchased a one-gallon container of a product containing 20% hydrogen peroxide, as well as an eight-ounce bottle of acetone.”
“A second person purchased an acetone product in approximately the first week of September. A third person purchased 32-ounce bottles of Ion Sensitive Scalp Developer, a product containing high levels of hydrogen peroxide, on approximately three occasions during the summer of 2009.”
Source: U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York