The former Flushing man at the center of an ongoing federal investigation into an alleged al-Qaida attack remained silent as his defense entered a not guilty plea in Brooklyn federal court Tuesday morning on a conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction charge.
In an indictment hearing that lasted about 10 minutes, U.S. District Court Judge Raymond J. Dearie ordered Najibullah Zazi to be held without bail until his next hearing in December.
Zazi, a 24-year-old Afghan immigrant who lived in Flushing until earlier this year, did not speak during his first appearance in a New York court with the exception of greeting the judge, according to the Associated Press.
His attorney, J. Michael Dowling, told reporters outside the court that he did not object to his client being held but said that the prosecutors’ case was premature because no other alleged conspirators have been identified or charged.
“I have not seen whatsoever any evidence of an agreement between Mr. Zazi and anyone else which is the essence of a conspiracy charge,” he said.
Federal prosecutors said they are aggressively investigating several of Zazi’s suspected conspirators but did not disclose their identities.
Zazi’s court appearance was the latest chapter in a 13-month long investigation that the federal government said stopped what could have been the first major terrorist attack in New York since Sept. 11.
In August 2008, Zazi and other unidentified individuals traveled to Pakistan for a trip that lasted nearly 16 months, according to the federal government. During that time, he received various e-mail messages containing information on how to make explosives similar to the ones used in the summer 2005 bombings in London, according to the criminal complaint.
Federal investigators contend that Zazi was being trained by al-Qaida overseas for an attack against the West.
After he came back to the United States in January, the Afghan national moved from Flushing to Colorado and during the summer, he purchased bomb-making materials from beauty salons and hardware stores, the complaint said.
On Sept. 10, Zazi arrived in Flushing in a rented car and stayed at an undisclosed area in the neighborhood, according to the complaint. Investigators say Zazi and other co-conspirators were preparing for a terrorist attack against the city’s mass transit system around the time of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. A search of Zazi’s vehicle by the FBI uncovered notes for making a bomb, according to investigators.
Zazi flew back to Colorado on Sept. 12, and was subsequently questioned by the authorities. The suspect had learned directly that he was being watched by the investigators while he was visiting Flushing, according to the criminal complaint.
He was arrested on Sept. 20 and extradited back to New York Friday.
Investigators contend that Flushing imam Ahmad Wais Afzali may have been one of the persons who tipped him off. Afzali, who worked as an informant for the NYPD in the past, met with the FBI and police when Zazi was in Queens and cooperated with their investigation.
Zazi called the imam on Sept. 11 and said his car was stolen. The phone call was monitored by the FBI, the criminal complaint said. Afzali asked Zazi if he had any “evidence” in the car, but the Colorado man said no, according to the complaint.
When asked by the authorities about the “evidence” question, Afzali said he never asked that and was arrested and charged for lying to investigators.
Last Thursday, the imam’s family was able to use their Flushing house as collateral to make his $1.5 million bail. Afzali was ordered to wear a monitoring device and was restricted to his home, a Woodhaven funeral home where he works, and mosques as he awaits trial on his charges.
Ron Kuby, Afzali’s lawyer, said his client was inappropriately being charged and did not knowingly warn Zazi.
“You don’t have to be the sharpest pencil in the terrorist box to realize ‘Gee, they’re on to me,’” the attorney said last Thursday following his client’s bail hearing.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@c
©2009 Community News Group
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