DENVER (AP) – Three people, including an Afghanistan-born man who allegedly handwrote bomb-making instructions, face court appearances Monday on charges of lying to authorities in an ongoing terror investigation.
Najibullah Zazi, 24, an airport shuttle driver in Colorado who has admitted receiving weapons training from Al Qaeda, played a direct role in the alleged terror plot, according to court documents released Sunday. Authorities have said they don’t know the timing or location of any planned attack.
Investigators said they found notes on bomb-making that appear to match Zazi’s handwriting and discovered his fingerprints on materials, batteries and a scale, that could be used to make explosives.
Zazi and his 53-year-old father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, were arrested Saturday in Denver. Ahmad Wais Afzali, 37, was arrested in New York, where he is an imam at a mosque in Queens.
The three are accused of making false statements to the government. The Zazis were scheduled to appear in federal court in Denver on Monday, the Justice Department said. Afzali was to appear Monday in federal court in New York. If convicted, they face eight years in prison. The younger Zazi has publicly denied being involved in a terror plot. His attorney, Arthur Folsom, dismissed as “rumor” any notion that his client played a crucial role, and Zazi’s defense team did not respond to attempts to reach them Sunday.
Federal officials in Denver declined to comment. Mohammed Zazi and Afzali are accused of lying to FBI agents about calls between Denver and New York. An affidavit accuses Afzali of lying about a call in which he told Najibullah Zazi that he had spoken with authorities.
Zazi’s father is accused of lying when he told authorities he didn’t know anyone by the name of Afzali. The FBI said it recorded a conversation between Mohammed Zazi and Afzali.
Prosecutors have said they’re not seeking to detain Zazi’s father. It was unclear whether they would seek to detain Afzali, who has worked as an informant for New York police.
Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who tracks such investigations, said authorities could have made the arrests because they feared too much information was getting to the suspects. Additional charges could be filed later, he said.
Ron Kuby, Afzali’s attorney, said the government may have been forced to act after Najibullah Zazi went to New York.
Zazi has said he drove there in September to resolve issues with a coffee cart he owns in Manhattan.
Kuby said his client gave authorities a DNA sample and let them search his home after the FBI said it was “frantic for any information about Zazi.”
“Now they find themselves without a case, and they’re lashing out at people they shouldn’t be lashing out at,” Kuby said.
Federal prosecutors say Zazi admitted to FBI agents that he received instruction from Al Qaeda operatives on subjects such as weapons and explosives. They also say he received the training in the federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan.
Court documents filed in Denver say Zazi spoke with agents under an agreement where he might avoid prosecution. Zazi’s defense denied reports that he considered a plea deal related to terror charges.
The FBI said it found images of handwritten notes on a laptop containing formulas and instructions for making a bomb, detonators and a fuse. Zazi told the FBI that he must have unintentionally downloaded the notes as part of a religious book and that he deleted the book “after realizing that its contents discussed jihad.”
An affidavit says the handwriting on the notes appeared to be Zazi’s. It also says they were e-mailed in December as an attachment between accounts believed to be owned by Zazi, including an account that originated in Pakistan. FBI agents say Najibullah Zazi traveled to Pakistan twice this year. Zazi says he was visiting his wife, who lives in the Peshawar region.
Zazi was born in Afghanistan, moved to Pakistan at age 7 and emigrated to the United States in 1999. He returned to Pakistan in 2007 and 2008 to visit his wife, according to Folsom.