Airport shuttle driver Najibullah Zazi is at the center of a growing FBI investigation into what officials describe as an al-Qaeda cell nearly ready to launch a domestic terror attack. The Colorado resident was arrested Sept. 20 on charges of misleading investigators after allegedly denying he recognized his handwriting on bombmaking materials. His father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, 53, and a New York City man, Ahmad Wais Afzali, were also arrested on similar allegations.
While no formal terrorism charges have been filed against any of the men, authorities believe the 24-year-old Zazi may be the cell's ringleader. An FBI affidavit says Zazi admitted under questioning to receiving weapons and training from al-Qaeda, and a series of searches in New York City turned up evidence that Zazi may have been looking to manufacture either truck or backpack bombs. Zazi and his father appeared in federal court in Denver on Sept. 21; Afzali appeared separately in federal court in Brooklyn. The trio currently face up to eight years in prison, though officials warn the investigation is continuing and more charges may be forthcoming.
Born in Afghanistan. Moved to Pakistan at age 7 before emigrating to the United States in 1999. Lives in Aurora, Colo.
Married, with his wife residing in Pakistan.
Traveled to Pakistan in 2007 and 2008, a fact that has come under scrutiny during the FBI's investigation. Zazi told authorities the purpose of his visit was to see his wife.
After being licensed in early 2009 to operate an airport shuttle, he landed a job at Denver International Airport.
Drove to New York City early this month, arriving on Sept. 9. Told investigators the purpose of the trip was to check up on a coffee cart he owns in the city.
Along with seven other men, tried to rent a U-Haul moving van in the borough of Queens on Sept. 10.
Had his rental car and computer searched by investigators during the trip to New York City.
Taped on calls with his father and Afzali, in which Zazi was told authorities were investigating his actions. Later denied both being on these calls and knowing Afzali.
After being picked up by police, submitted to three days of federal questioning before refusing to cooperate further with officials.
Allegedly told investigators he received training and weapons from al-Qaeda during his 2008 trip to Pakistan.
According to released investigation documents, investigators searching his car discovered nine pages of bombmaking instructions. Authorities allegedly discovered his fingerprints on those documents, as well as on purported bombmaking materials like an electronic scale and batteries seized in a Sept. 14 raid in Queens.
Through his attorney, denied reports he was considering a plea bargain to avoid prosecution.
"All I can say is that I have no idea what it is all about."
After his car was searched in New York by federal investigators, a move followed by a series of terrorism-related raids in New York City. (Associated Press, Sept. 15)
"I live here. I work here. Why would I have an issue with America? This is the only country that gives you freedom freedom of religion, freedom of choice. You don't get that elsewhere. Nobody wants to leave America. People die to come here."
In an interview with the Denver Post, Sept. 16.
"He doesn't have time. He's working."
Zazi's aunt, Rabia, on the notion her nephew could be involved in a terrorism plot. (Associated Press, Sept. 15)
"He's simply somebody who was in the wrong place at the wrong time,"
Zazi's attorney, Arthur Folsom. (Associated Press, Sept. 16)
"It heightens our concerns about the case because you would expect that if the government's allegations were based on strong evidence, that there would be charges brought based on terror-related evidence, not making false statements."
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. (New York Times, Sept. 21)
"There is a lot more to come. This isn't over by any means."
Unnamed federal official to the Los Angeles Times, Sept. 21