A Colorado resident, his father, and another man have been charged with making false statements during an extensive terror investigation that stretches to Pakistan.
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Shuttle-bus driver Najibullah Zazi and his father, Mohammed, were taken into custody in Denver Saturday night, and Ahmad Wais Afzali was arrested in New York City. The three are being eyed for possible terrorist activity, though the details remain murky.
The arrests follow an FBI counter-terrorism raid on two New York City apartments this week and repeated questioning of Mr. Zazi and his associates since then.
Several reports in recent days, all sourced to anonymous officials, say Zazi admitted to contact of an unclear nature with Al Qaeda in Pakistan, and may have been involved in a plot involving an explosives-laden U-Haul truck and targets in and around New York City.
But Zazi has publicly denied any ties to Al Qaeda or involvement in a terror plot. He had broken off talks with authorities early Saturday, before his arrest.
Reuters and several other media reported a statement from an official clarifying that investigators were still in the dark about the details of the alleged plot.
"The arrests carried out tonight are part of an ongoing and fast-paced investigation," David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement. "It is important to note that we have no specific information regarding the timing, location, or target of any planned attack," Kris said.
The New York Times reported Friday, citing anonymous officials, that Zazi had admitted to investigators that he had "perhaps unwittingly crossed paths" with Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, and that there are "some indications that Mr. Zazi underwent training in explosives and bomb-making while overseas." Zazi's wife lives in Peshawar, in northwest Pakistan, the paper reported.
He first came to the attention of American intelligence months ago when he was in contact with Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan who are believed to play a significant role in trying to encourage attacks against American and other Western targets, the officials indicated.
An American adviser to United States intelligence agencies who has been briefed on some details of the inquiry said that investigators were focusing in part on Mr. Zazi's activities in Peshawar, where he met and married his wife. Peshawar is the capital of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province and a gateway to the tribal areas where the Taliban and Al Qaeda have made a base.
"He was there getting training in explosives and bomb-making," the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation, said he had been told.
The younger Zazi lied about documents on explosives that authorities said they found on his laptop that was confiscated in New York....
One suspect in the probe – that now reaches from New York to Colorado and overseas – told investigators that Zazi was expected to decide when the cell would launch their attack, a law enforcement source said.
The paper reported earlier that investigators were looking into the backgrounds of seven Afghan men who on Sept. 9 tried to rent a 26-foot truck at a U-Haul rental outlet in New York City, but failed because none of them could produce a valid credit card.
Zazi told the Denver Post he is innocent, in an interview early Saturday. The Post quoted a spokeswoman for Zazi's lawyer saying that he broke off talks with FBI counter-terror officials in part because of inaccurate media reports on the questioning.
In a phone interview with The Post on Saturday morning, Zazi said he has not admitted any link to the terrorist group, to participation in insurgency training in Pakistan or to involvement in a terrorist plot.
"It's not true," Zazi said. "I have nothing to hide. It's all media publications reporting whatever they want. They have been reporting all this nonsense."
Zazi said in the interview that the reports that he had admitted to contacts with Al Qaeda were illogical.
"If it was true, they wouldn't allow me to leave," Zazi said. "I don't think the FBI or the police would allow anyone who admits being a terrorist to go free for one minute."