Federal agents arrested individuals in Colorado and New York as part of an ongoing investigation into a possible cross-country terror plot to attack mass transit systems and other high-profile targets. As the national terrorism investigation intensified, federal advisories issued to law enforcement officials warned of possible attacks on transit systems, luxury hotels, sport stadiums and other targets. Investigators contend this could be the first Al Qaeda plot in the U.S. since the Sept. 11th attacks.
The focus of the investigation, part of NYPD's larger "Operation Nexus," to prevent terror attacks on U.S. soil, is a Denver airport shuttle driver Najibullah Zazi, his father Mohammed Zazi and a New York imam Ahmad Wais Afzali. The three Afghan-born men have been accused of lying to the FBI and will likely face tougher terrorism charges, according to intelligence sources.
Arrest documents reveal that around the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks Zazi drove from Denver to New York City in a rental car and spent the night in Flushing, Queens. A search of the rental car turned up a laptop containing a photographic image of handwritten notes on bomb making. According to court documents, Zazi falsely asserted that he had not written the notes and may have unintentionally downloaded the document as part of some religious materials he had downloaded earlier. Agents also found batteries and other items that could be used to make explosives with Zazi's fingerprints in raids on apartments he visited in New York. Backpacks and cell phones were other items that were seized. According to news reports a New York area U-Haul store turned away a group of Afghan men who tried to rent a 26-foot truck there.
Law enforcement officials suspect that Zazi and others may have been plotting to detonate backpack bombs via cell phones on New York City trains in attacks reminiscent of the London subway bombings in 2005 and the Madrid rail attacks in 2004. Immigration records indicate that Zazi visited Peshawar in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) in August 2008, where Al Qaeda operates training camps.
NYPD efforts to use Ahmad Wais Afzali, an imam at the Hazrat Abu Bakr Islamic Center in Queens, as a police informant backfired when Afzali tipped off Zazi that the FBI had been looking for him. In phone conversations intercepted by the FBI, Afzali called Najibullah Zazi and informed him about being visited by law enforcement and shown photographs. Afzali allegedly stated, "I was exposed to something yesterday from law enforcement. And they came to ask about your characters." The warning forced the hands of law enforcement officials to conduct raids and arrests sooner than they would have liked, making it harder for them to gather more evidence and identify others involved in the alleged conspiracy.