An Afghan immigrant wanted to carry out a New York City terror attack involving hydrogen peroxide bombs on commuter trains to possibly coincide with the Sept. 11 anniversary before federal authorities foiled the plan, a U.S. prosecutor said Friday.
U.S. prosecutor Tim Neff told a federal judge that Najibullah Zazi “was in the throes of making a bomb and attempting to perfect his formulation.”
“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,” Neff declared.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Craig Shaffer ordered Zazi, a 24-year-old Afghan-born coffee cart owner in New York and Denver airport shuttle driver, transferred to New York City to face charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.
Zazi sat expressionless during the hearing, staring at a decanter on the defense table.
It wasn’t immediately known when the U.S. Marshals Service would send Zazi to New York, where a federal grand jury indicted him Thursday on charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction in the United States. The charge carries a possible life sentence upon conviction.
Zazi’s attorney, Arthur Folsom, said he expected Zazi to be sent on Saturday.
Folsom argued at the hearing that Zazi should be released on bond with electronic monitoring. He argued Zazi has ties to Colorado: His parents and five siblings.
“If that’s not an indication of strong family ties to the state of Colorado, I don’t know what is,” Folsom said.
Shaffer disagreed, saying Zazi had been in Colorado less than a year. “He has very little reason to stay,” the judge said.
Zazi has publicly denied being a terrorist since he was arrested on Saturday and charged with lying to FBI agents during three days of voluntary interviews. That count was considered a holding charge pending Thursday’s indictment.
The U.S. indictment says Zazi received explosives training from al-Qaida and bought large quantities of hydrogen peroxide and nail-polish remover at beauty supply stores to make bombs, possibly to detonate on New York City commuter trains.
Investigators have fanned out across the Denver area and New York City, going to beauty shops, home improvement stores and neighborhoods Zazi frequented looking for possible accomplices, while the government issued national terrorism warnings for sports complexes, hotels and transit systems.
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Thursday that Zazi had associates in New York who were in on the plot. 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 beauty supply stores in the Denver area, products with names like Ion Sensitive Scalp Developer and Clairoxide.
Zazi searched a Queens home improvement store Web site for another ingredient needed to make a compound called TATP (Triacetone Triperoxide), the explosives used in the London bombings that killed over 50 people, prosecutors said.
A government motion seeking to deny bail laid out a chronology of the alleged scheme, which prosecutors said had been in the works for more than a year.
Zazi — a legal U.S. resident who immigrated in 1999 — began plotting as early as August 2008 to “use one or more weapons of mass destruction,” when he and others traveled from Newark, N.J., to receive explosives training in Pakistan, prosecutors said.
Within days of returning from Pakistan in early 2009, he moved to the Denver suburb of Aurora, where he used a computer to research homemade bomb ingredients and to look up beauty supply stores where he could buy them, according to prosecutors.
A second law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation said associates of Zazi visited Colorado from New York to help him buy the chemicals, using stolen credit cards to make the purchases before returning to New York.
Security video and receipts show that some of the purchases were made near a 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. “Each communication” was “more urgent than the last.”
FBI explosives testing later found residue in the vent above the stove, authorities said.
On Sept. 8, court papers say, Zazi searched the Internet for home improvement stores in Queens before driving a rental car for a two-day trip to the city. The visit triggered a series of searches in Denver and New York City over the past two weeks, and netted backpacks, cell phones and a scale at a Queens home where Zazi spent the night.
A law enforcement official said Thursday 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, and considered arresting him right away. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation continues.
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.
Zazi’s father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, and a New York City imam, Ahmad Wais Afzali, appeared in court Thursday on charges they lied to investigators. Mohammed Zazi, 53, was ordered freed under court supervision in Denver until an Oct. 9 hearing. Afzali, who was accused of tipping off the Zazis to the federal probe against them in a tapped telephone call, was released in New York on $1.5 million bail.
Associated Press writers Tom Hays and Samantha Gross in New York, Devlin Barrett in Washington and P. Solomon Banda in Denver contributed to this report.