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NY terror plot built on beauty store chemicals, feds charge

The Denver driver Najibullah Zazi shopped for hydrogen and other chemicals before travelling to New York prior to the 9/11 anniversary, according to new government charges filed Thursday.

By Michael B. FarrellStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 25, 2009

Najibullah Zazi.

Ed Andrieski/AP/File

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The most detailed account so far of the case against terror suspect Najibullah Zazi was laid out in a federal government motion unsealed Thursday. It charges that the Denver airport shuttle driver shopped for bomb-making chemicals at beauty supply stores in Colorado and searched the Internet for instructions on how to operate a chemical lab.

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The motion argues he should be held without bail.

"Zazi received detailed bomb-making instructions in Pakistan, purchased components of improvised explosive devices, and traveled to New York City on September 10, 2009, in furtherance of his criminal plans," the government alleges in the document.

Mr. Zazi appeared briefly in a Denver courtroom Thursday for a scheduled preliminary hearing on charges that he lied to federal agents. Those charges were dismissed and the hearing was postponed to Friday because a New York grand jury indicted him on Wednesday of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

When Zazi reappears in court, a judge is likely to order him transferred to the US District Court in New York to face those allegations.

The government's motion in the case describes preparations for a plan to use peroxide-based bombs, much like those used by the London bombers in 2005.

Hydrogen from beauty stores

According to the government charges, Zazi and others bought "unusual quantities of hydrogen and acetone products in July, August, and September 2009 from three beauty supply stores." Following the purchases, Zazi checked into a hotel room in Aurora, Colo., that contained a stove where authorities found his finger prints and trace amounts of acetone, another possible component of chemical bombs.

Authorities also say they found bomb-making notes on his laptop and discovered that he had recently searched the Internet for information about hydrochloric acid and how to operate a safe lab while working with dangerous chemicals.

The government's motion indicates that federal counterterrorism agents have been tracking Zazi for at least a year before he was apprehended prior to entering Manhattan on Sept. 10. On Sept. 19, he was charged with lying to federal agents. His father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, and a New York imam and one-time New York City police informant, Ahmad Wais Afzali, were also arrested for lying to federal agents.

On Thursday, Mr. Afzali, who federal agents say tipped off Zazi that he was under surveillance, was released on $1.5 million bail. He will be placed on electronic monitoring. According to the Denver Post, Mohammed Zazi has also been released and placed on electronic monitoring. The elder Zazi may be called to testify in New York case against his son.

Zazi monitored for a year

In its case against Zazi, the government describes a terrorist plot that could have amounted to the deadliest attack in the US since 9/11. Federal agencies issued alerts earlier this week nationwide to ensure heightened security around mass transit and sports complexes.

"We believe any imminent threat arising from this case has been disrupted," US Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement Thursday, adding that investigators were following a number of leads.

The government motion filed Thursday indicates that agents have been tracking him for almost a year and that the urgency of his communications seemed to increase as the 9/11 anniversary approached.

Around Sept. 10, Zazi became suspicious and learned that law enforcement officers were tracing his activities, according to the government motion.

When Zazi returned to Denver he voluntarily submitted to questioning and, according to law enforcement sources, admitted to receiving training at an Al Qaeda camp in Pakistan, where his wife and children live.

Zazi maintains his innocence and has denied any involvement in a terrorist plot.

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