Federal authorities have charged a man jailed since last week with acquiring and preparing explosive materials like those used in the 2005 London subway bombings days before he traveled to New York City earlier this month, asserting that he and others were involved in a Qaida conspiracy to strike in the United States.
Prosecutors, in papers filed in federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday, said Najibullah Zazi, 24, received explosives training in Pakistan in 2008, moved from Queens, N.Y., to Denver immediately upon returning in early 2009, and eventually began preparing to make bombs: purchasing large amounts of chemicals at beauty supply stores, renting a hotel suite to experiment with mixing the materials for use in bombs, and receiving urgent technical assistance on how to perfect the process.
Prosecutors did not make clear whether Zazi, a legal resident who was born in Afghanistan, intended to strike in New York City, Denver or elsewhere, or whether they even knew. They said in court papers that this month he scouted a store in Queens for an acid essential in creating the bombs and two weeks ago slept in an apartment in Flushing where investigators recovered a scale that could be used in making explosives.
The court filings raise the possibility of how much else the authorities may not yet know, including whether Zazi was a mastermind of the plot or simply a willing participant acting under the direction of others. The 12-page filing mentions as many as three other people who assisted Zazi in Colorado, as well as another person with whom he consulted about making the bombs. And while the authorities have said repeatedly since the investigation became public Sept. 14 that more arrests were likely to follow, they did not announce any Thursday.
The uncertainty about Zazi’s intentions and associates may be in some part due to the fact that investigators were forced to take the investigation public and move to make hasty arrests after, they now have said, an imam in Queens tipped off Zazi that he was under scrutiny.
The charges filed Thursday, and the details cited in support of them, certainly amount to some of the most serious and disturbing since 9/11. The authorities have had scores of federal agents and local officers working on the case in recent days and weeks.
“We believe any imminent threat arising from this case has been disrupted,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement. “We are investigating a wide range of leads.”
Zazi was arrested Saturday night, and charged with lying to federal officials during three days of interrogation in Denver last week. He is scheduled to appear in court on Friday for a hearing during which prosecutors will seek to return him to New York to face the most recent charges.
Zazi’s father and the imam from Queens, both of whom were charged with lying to agents during questioning last week, were released on bond.
On Thursday, lawyers for Zazi did not respond to questions from reporters in Denver. Before he was arrested, Zazi denied wrongdoing, saying in interviews and through his lawyers that he had no links to al-Qaida or any terrorist plot.