NEW YORK // Three men of Afghan origin were due to appear in court today after being charged with lying to US federal agents investigating a plot to blow up targets in the United States. Few details have emerged about the alleged plot and the investigation. The raids and arrests in New York City and Denver, Colorado, came soon after the eighth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, when American Muslims were already feeling vulnerable.
Individuals in Pakistan as well as the US are under investigation, the American justice department said after the three men were arrested late on Saturday. "The arrests are part of an ongoing and fast-paced investigation," David Kris, the 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."
Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year-old Afghan permanent resident who works as an airport bus driver in Colorado, was questioned by the FBI for three days last week before his arrest in Denver. Supporting documents claimed he admitted receiving weapons and explosives training from al Qa'eda in Pakistan last year. Mohammed Wali Zazi, his father, was also arrested in Denver, while Ahmad Wais Afzali, his associate, was arrested in New York. They were charged with making false statements to federal agents.
Before his arrest, Najibullah Zazi told the Denver Post newspaper that he had not admitted to any links with al Qa'eda as reported by some media. "It's not true," he said. "I have nothing to hide. It's all media publications reporting whatever they want. They have been reporting all this nonsense." Anonymous officials cited in the US media said they suspected Mr Zazi, who also operates a coffee street cart in New York, was involved in a potential plot involving hydrogen peroxide explosives.
Mr Zazi was born in Afghanistan in 1985, moved to Pakistan at age seven and emigrated to the United States in 1999. He returned to Pakistan in 2007 and 2008 to visit his wife, according to Arthur Folsom, his lawyer. He was stopped by authorities on the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey and New York, on September 10. He had driven from Denver in a rental car, in which a laptop computer was found to contain instructions on making explosive devices, according to affidavits filed in the case. Mr Zazi said he must have unintentionally downloaded the instructions but federal agents suspected he received them via e-mail.
Mr Zazi was allowed to fly back to Colorado where he was questioned further in the days leading up to his arrest. Last Wednesday, FBI agents searched his home and his three-storey apartment building was cordoned off. Last Monday, a joint anti-terrorism task force raided a series of locations in the Queens borough of New York where Mr Afzali lives. FBI agents also intercepted a telephone call between Mr Afzali and Mr Zazi, according to the affidavits. "I was exposed to something yesterday from the authorities," Mr Afzali told Mr Zazi. "And they came to ask me about your characters. They asked me about you guys."
Mr Afzali subsequently lied to agents about this telephone conversation, the affidavits said. A conversation was also recorded between Mr Afzali and Mr Zazi's father, who later denied any relationship with him. The case was a reminder to Muslim Americans celebrating Eid of the suspicion and surveillance they have often complained of since September 11. It also threatened to overshadow a rally in New York today to urge Michael Bloomberg, the mayor, to include two days off in the public school system to allow celebration of the two annual Eids.
The Council of American Islamic Relations (Cair) recently lauded moves by the New York Police Department to clarify a 2007 report that coupled Muslim beliefs with tendencies towards extremism and violence. Cair and other Muslim groups and lawyers have lobbied for the changes for the last two years. They urged the police to make clear it did not regard traditional religious practices as suspect. @Email:email@example.com