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Home Front: WoT
Imam entangled in terrorism case leaves US
2010-07-07
[Dawn] The imam entangled in the investigation into a suicide bomb plot against New York City subway stations left the US Monday, after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. Among his final words on US soil, his lawyer says, were "God bless America."

Ahmad Wais Afzali and his wife Fatima took off on a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight to Jeddah and then will go on to Mecca, where Fatima got a job teaching English, said the lawyer, Ron Kuby. Afzali, who was born in Afghanistan but spent most of his life in Queens, isn't sure what he's going to do there, Kuby said.
Not likely he'll get hired as an imam, anyway. Has he any other useful skills, or will he have to accept employment at minimum wage as a chauffeur or gardener?
Most of his family lives in Virginia, including two children from a previous marriage.

Afzali, under the terms of his plea April 15, was sentenced to time served - four days - but ordered to leave the country in 90 days.

Authorities sought help last fall from the imam, a previously reliable police source, as they scrambled to thwart the plot by Najibullah Zazi, an airport van driver who pleaded guilty in the case.

The 38-year-old imam said he had wanted to help authorities in the investigation of the threat but lied under grilling by the FBI about his phone conversations Zazi.

Afzali lied when he said he never told Zazi that he was under surveillance in New York.

Afzali said that he never meant to aide Zazi or deceive the government.

"It was not just something he said at sentencing, he genuinely loves this country very much," Kuby said. "Unfortunately he was caught in a turf battle between the NYPD and the FBI."
And lying. And warning a suspect he was being watched. Don't let's forget that.
The electronic monitoring bracelet was removed at around 9:30 am, and then a caravan of family and two Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents traveled to John F. Kennedy International Airport. Two agents, dressed casually, accompanied Afzali and his wife to the gate and watched them board.

Afzali cannot return to the US without special permission. If he does, he is subject to additional charges and could be deported to Afghanistan.

Najibullah Zazi and two friends were arrested in September 2009 before, prosecutors said, they could carry out a trio of suicide bombings in Manhattan. Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay have pleaded guilty and admitted planning to detonate homemade bombs on the subway during rush hour. A third man, Adis Medunjanin, awaits trial.

Zazi is cooperating with investigators, key developments that prosecutors hope will help them trace the plot back to its roots in Pakistan, where Zazi and former friends from high school allegedly traveled in 2008 to seek terror training.
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Home Front: WoT
Police Let Terrorist Slip Through
2010-04-26
Port Authority police were told to stop and search would-be subway bomber Najibullah Zazi's car last September as he drove up to the George Washington Bridge--but waved him across without finding two pounds of explosives hidden inside.

The failure to uncover the explosives after an alert about Mr. Zazi from the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been widely discussed among police but never publicly disclosed. It stoked longstanding tensions between the Port Authority Police and the New York Police Department, which are more pronounced since the 9/11 attacks. The Port Authority is tasked with protecting the bridges, tunnels and major airports between New York and New Jersey.

The Zazi case is especially sensitive for New York police, who privately argue that letting Mr. Zazi continue into the city was a potentially catastrophic gaffe by the Port Authority Police. Several NYPD detectives were accused of short-circuiting the case by talking to a Queens-based imam who worked as an NYPD informant. The imam was accused of alerting Mr. Zazi that police were on to him.

Ron Kuby, the attorney representing Imam Ahmad Wais Afzali, said evidence in his client's case suggests Mr. Zazi was tipped off by the staged FBI/Port Authority Police drug checkpoint before he ever spoke to the imam.

"Either the Port Authority [Police] found the explosives and were under orders by the FBI not to seize anything," Mr. Kuby said, "or somehow they missed the explosives that they were explicitly told to search for." In April, the imam pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents for initially denying he talked to Mr. Zazi and was sentenced to time served and ordered deported.

Spokesmen for the Port Authority and the FBI declined comment.

But Port Authority and FBI officials with knowledge of the investigation said there were factors that made the search of Mr. Zazi's car a touchy proposition. The Port Authority stopped Mr. Zazi at the behest of the FBI, which had tracked him nearly 1,800 miles from Colorado. To avoid tipping him off, they pretended the stop was a random drug checkpoint.

A Port Authority officer said police didn't have a warrant. That prevented them from conducting a thorough search of the vehicle without making Mr. Zazi suspicious. Anything seized from the car in such a search would have been inadmissible in court, he said.
The difference between treating it like a crime and treating it like an act of war. Suppose Mr. Zazi had decided to set off his explosives on the bridge, just moments later?
"It was a cursory stop," the officer said. "We didn't have a search warrant, no permission to go into the car."

Mr. Zazi, an Afghan native who grew up in Queens, got rid of the explosives soon after the Sept. 10, 2009, search of his rental car, fearing he was under surveillance. He flew back to his home in Colorado and was arrested there after admitting he trained with al Qaeda in Afghanistan and planned to use the explosive--triacetone triperoxide, or TATP--for a subway attack based on the deadly 2005 London bombings. He later called it a "martyrdom operation."

Mr. Zazi pleaded guilty in the conspiracy case in February. His sentencing is set for June 25.
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Home Front: WoT
Wrist slap for Zazi's 'tip' imam
2010-04-16
The Queens imam who lied to the FBI about tipping off subway suicide-bomb plotters was given a wrist slap yesterday by a Brooklyn federal judge who sentenced him to the four days he's already served in jail.

Ahmad Wais Afzali, 38, had been facing six months in the clink after pleading guilty to lying to authorities about telling convicted suicide subway bomb plotter Najibullah Zazi that federal agents were following him.

But despite his break, he will have to leave the country in 90 days or be deported to his native Afghanistan under the plea agreement.
I'm sorry, but being deported to Afghanistan, presumably with concomitant revocation of American citizenship, is not exactly a slap on the wrist.
Zazi, who is also from Afghanistan and who the feds say had three co-conspirators, planned to murder hundreds of New Yorkers by detonating homemade backpack bombs in the Manhattan subways during rush hour.

Afzali, who worked as an informant for the NYPD, told Zazi that his phones were tapped, but warned him not to get involved in "nonsense" in Iraq and Afghanistan. The al Qaeda-trained bomb plotter aborted his plan, threw away his bomb material and fled the city after Afzali spilled the news that the law was onto him.

"I take full responsibility for my actions," he told the judge yesterday. "Honest to God, it was never my intention to help those idiots for what they do in the name of Islam. I apologize . . . I am pleading for mercy. I am not a bad man. The spiritual and psychological burden is far greater than any sentence you can impose."
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Home Front: WoT
Imam Snared in Terror Plot Admits He Lied to the FBI
2010-03-05
Follow-up with some details.
A Queens imam who became entangled in a terrorism plot against New York City when he warned one of the planners that he was under government surveillance pleaded guilty on Thursday to a reduced charge of lying to federal officials.

Fighting through tears, the imam, Ahmad Wais Afzali, spoke of failing his adopted country, a country his conviction will soon require him to leave, maintaining that he had no idea of the seriousness of the case when he told Najibullah Zazi in phone conversations that law enforcement officials were investigating him.

Mr. Afzali, who had been approached by the New York Police Department to provide information on Mr. Zazi, said he was afraid when Federal Bureau of Investigation agents interrogated him two days later -- so he lied about the conversation with Mr. Zazi, even though he knew it had been recorded.
Brilliant.
"My intention was not to protect Zazi but to protect myself," he said during a hearing on Thursday in United States District Court in Brooklyn. "In doing so, I failed to live up to my obligation to this country, my community, my family and my religion. I am truly sorry."
You're sorry. Great. Thanks. Now scram.
He's absolutely right -- he did fail to live up to his obligation as a citizen when he lied; we have standards, minimal though they might be. Next time come over the border from Mexico illegally, and get work in the underground economy as a stoop labourer harvesting the fields. That way he won't have the energy or the time to get involved with the wrong sort of people.
Mr. Zazi pleaded guilty last week to participating in a Qaeda plot to detonate explosives on New York subways during rush hour. Two other people, Adis Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay, are also charged in the plot, which prosecutors said aimed to coordinate three suicide attacks.

Under the agreement reached with prosecutors, Mr. Afzali pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the F.B.I., but the reduced charge did not specify that the lie occurred in the course of a terrorism investigation. As a result, Mr. Afzali faces up to six months in prison rather than up to eight years when he is sentenced in April. The government has agreed not to request any time in jail, said Ronald L. Kuby, a lawyer for Mr. Afzali.

After sentencing, Mr. Afzali will have up to 90 days to leave the country voluntarily, or he will be deported.

Outside the courtroom, Mr. Afzali appeared distraught about leaving the country he has called home since he left Afghanistan as a young boy. His wife and two children from a previous marriage all hold United States citizenship. He said he did not know where he would go.

"My whole tribe is here," Mr. Afzali said. To return to Afghanistan, he offered, would be to "sign my death sentence."
Not our problem. Next time don't lie to the FBI.
How many more of his tribe, all of whom are here in America, are jihadis? Perhaps the answer he gave to that question is the lie that the FBI is so displeased about.
Dressed in a beige suit and a white skullcap, Mr. Afzali kept his eyes downcast through much of the brief hearing, occasionally looking to his lawyer for guidance or reaching up with a tissue to wipe away tears.

After pleading guilty, he read aloud from a prepared statement, in which he described his past work as a liaison between the New York Police Department and the local Muslim community. "I have always assisted the police, whenever they have asked," he said. "I did so because I love this country and I love my community."

That involvement took a turn when the police asked him for information about Mr. Zazi and Mr. Medunjanin, who used to attend his mosque in Queens.

"The police interest in these men led me to believe that they were involved in some criminal activity, but I had no idea of its seriousness," he said. "I had known them when they were boys and did not think they were capable of serious crime. I thought perhaps they had fallen in with the wrong people or gotten caught up in something."
And so they had.
Mr. Afzali said he had a phone conversation with Mr. Zazi in which he told the younger man that law enforcement officials had inquired about him, and he offered to set up a meeting with the police and urged him: "Don't get involved in Afghanistan garbage."

Two days later, Mr. Afzali was interrogated by F.B.I agents about the conversation. He denied telling Mr. Zazi that law enforcement officials were interested in him. "I lied and said I did not," Mr. Afzali recounted, breaking into sobs. "My intention was not to protect Zazi but to protect myself."
Darwin always wins.
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Home Front: WoT
Imam admits tipping off New York bomb suspect
2010-03-04
A MUSLIM cleric is set to be expelled from the United States after pleading guilty to lying to FBI agents when they probed a major bomb plot in New York last year.

Ahmad Wais Afzali, 39, reversed an earlier plea of not guilty and admitted in federal court in Brooklyn to making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Under a plea agreement he faces a reduced prison sentence of up to six months.

He would then have to leave the United States, where he is a permanent resident working as an imam at a New York mosque, but not a citizen.

Arrested in September last year, Mr Afzali was charged with lying to FBI agents about tipping off Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan immigrant who has since confessed to conspiring to bomb New York.

According to prosecutors, Mr Afzali telephoned Zazi to warn him that he was being watched. Zazi subsequently abandoned the bomb plot and returned from New York to his home in Denver, Colorado.

In court, Mr Afzali wept as he admitted to lying to the FBI, but said he had only called Zazi to help New York police who came to him for information on the terrorism suspect.

"On September 7, I called Najibullah Zazi. During that conversation I told Najibullah that law enforcement authorities had been to see me about him," he said.

But when the FBI asked him about this six days later, he denied having had the conversation.

"When I was asked whether I had told Zazi about law enforcement being interested in him, I lied and said I did not."

Mr Afzali, 39, is originally from Afghanistan but has family and deep roots in New York.

The plea bargain saw his charge reduced from lying to the FBI in a terrorism case to simply lying. That will reduce his sentence when a judge rules in April.

However, the bargain also stipulates his departure from the country within 90 days of leaving prison.

Mr Afzali, who remained free on bail ahead of sentencing, said outside the court that he was diabetic and that abroad he would not be able to get proper treatment. "I just signed my death sentence," he said.

Mr Afzali said he was "truly, deeply sorry" but he also sounded a bitter note: "I helped the government and this is what I get."
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Home Front: WoT
2 (more) Men Arrested in NYC Terror Investigation
2010-01-08
Two men were arrested Friday in the investigation of a bomb plot targeting New York City that previously led to charges against an airport driver.

The arrests in New York of Adis Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay were part of "an ongoing investigation" by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, according to Special Agent Richard Kolko, who declined to comment further.

There were no immediate details on the charges against the men, according to Kolko and Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in the city's Brooklyn borough.

Adis Medunjanin was arrested on charges related to a terror raid on a N.Y. mosque, was involved in a car accident in Queens.
He was being followed by FBI when the accident occurred and he was caught as he fled the scene!
Nardoza said the men were expected to appear in court later Friday.

Medunjanin's attorney said the FBI seized his client's passport on Thursday. Robert C. Gottlieb said the search warrant indicated the passport was sought as part of an investigation into a conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

The airport driver in Colorado, Najibullah Zazi, previously pleaded not guilty to that charge. He is accused of getting Al Qaeda training to build homemade bombs to attack New York City.

Federal investigators questioned Medunjanin, a Bosnian immigrant, and Ahmedzay, a U.S. citizen -- who lived in the same neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens where Zazi used to live -- months ago in the terrorism probe. Their photographs were among four shown to Ahmad Wais Afzali, a Queens imam accused of tipping off Zazi that New York police detectives were looking for him, according to Afzali's attorney

Gottlieb has said FBI agents seized computers and cell phones from Medunjanin's apartment last autumn but later returned them.

Gottlieb said the FBI confirmed the arrests for him Friday morning, many hours after they occurred. Gottlieb said he didn't know what charges the men faced.

The lawyer, who insists Medunjanin has done nothing wrong, said officials at a hospital had told him that authorities had taken Medunjanin into custody after he was treated for minor injuries from a traffic accident.

"They intentionally hid him from his lawyer and his family," Gottlieb said.

The name of Ahmedzay's attorney was not immediately on record.
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Home Front: WoT
Complaint: NYPD may have bungled terror probe
2009-09-24
Police acting without the FBI's knowledge may have inadvertently helped blow the surveillance of a terrorism suspect and compromised a bomb plot investigation at a sensitive stage by questioning an imam about him, a criminal complaint suggests.

"They came to ask me about your characters," the Muslim religious leader, Ahmad Wais Afzali, told Najibullah Zazi in a secretly recorded Sept. 11 telephone conversation. "They asked me about you guys."

At least one of those New York Police Department detectives, referred to in the recently unsealed criminal complaint, works for a division that operates independently from an FBI-run terrorism task force.

The complaint also suggests investigators may have tipped off Zazi, a 24-year-old Denver airport shuttle driver, by towing and searching a rental car he was using on a New York City trip that heightened fears of an attack.

The maneuver, authorities say, produced evidence of bomb-making instructions retrieved from a hard drive on Zazi's laptop.

But it also apparently didn't get by the suspect: In the phone conversation with Afzali, Zazi said the car's disappearance convinced him he was being watched.

NYPD and FBI officials have denied that the potential missteps forced their hand in a series of high-profile raids last week, prompted Zazi to abort his New York visit and caused friction between the two agencies, which work together through the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, asked Tuesday if he had any concerns about the handling of Afzali, declined comment on the investigation beyond what was in court papers, saying the probe was classified.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne insisted the NYPD and the FBI "worked closely and successfully in this case and in scores of others." He declined further comment.
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Home Front: WoT
Terror probe widens in U.S.
2009-09-23
Reporting from Washington and New York - Federal authorities have tied as many as a dozen people to a suspected Al Qaeda-linked bomb plot on U.S. soil as they continue to gather evidence to indict on terrorism charges the young Afghan immigrant at the center of the case, law enforcement officials said Monday.

Authorities said that they did not know the exact number of potential suspects or many of their identities, but that they had been connected through electronic intercepts, surveillance, seized evidence and interviews.

A federal law enforcement official and others, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the high level of secrecy surrounding the investigation, said the suspects appeared concentrated in the New York area, with possibly others in the suspect's home state of Colorado and elsewhere.

Of particular interest are several individuals that Najibullah Zazi, 24, had met or communicated with on a trip to New York two weeks ago.

In interviews and court filings, federal law enforcement officials said they feared that Zazi was meeting in New York with co-conspirators in a possible plot to bomb subway stations or other crowded civilian targets.

The disclosures came as Zazi, of Aurora, Colo., and two other men arrested Saturday night made their first court appearances Monday on charges of making false statements to federal authorities.

Zazi, his father Mohammed Wali Zazi, 53, and Ahmad Wais Afzali, 37, of Queens, N.Y., were held in custody on orders by judges in Colorado and New York.

Several of the officials said it was likely that Najibullah Zazi will be charged with providing material support to a known terrorist organization based on his admission that he trained in weapons and explosives at an Al Qaeda camp in Pakistan last year. That admission was cited in an FBI affidavit unsealed over the weekend.

The affidavit also alleges that authorities found images on Najibullah Zazi's laptop of nine pages of notes on making explosives and fuses, apparently in his own handwriting. In addition, the affidavit alleges that authorities have found other information linking Zazi to the suspected plot, including his fingerprints on a small electronic scale and double-A batteries, which are often used in making bombs.

One federal law enforcement official said more serious charges were being considered for Zazi as leverage to get him to cooperate in the investigation and provide information on others who may be involved.

Zazi, who had been monitored by authorities for some time after returning from a trip to Pakistan, was stopped on a New York bridge on Sept. 10 after driving from Colorado on what he said was a trip to settle a business deal that had gone sour.

New York police checked his car and allowed him to leave, according to court documents. Soon after, police showed pictures of Zazi and several others to Afzali, the imam of a Queens mosque who had worked as a police informant in the past.

Zazi and his father later talked by phone with Afzali, who told them of his contact with New York City police detectives.

Zazi flew back to Colorado and agreed to be questioned by FBI agents, who interviewed him for three days. Zazi abruptly stopped cooperating with authorities on Saturday, prompting his arrest.

The false statement charges against the three men result from their conversations with authorities about what they knew about the alleged plot or had told one another about the investigation.

In announcing the charges on Sunday, Assistant Atty. Gen. David Kris emphasized that authorities had "no specific information regarding the timing, location or target of any planned attack."

The three Afghan-born men, all legal residents of the U.S., have maintained their innocence. They face up to eight years in prison if convicted on the false statement charges.

Zazi and his father, both shuttle drivers at Denver International Airport, were handcuffed for their court appearances Monday afternoon, wearing the same casual street clothes in which they were arrested.

Zazi told Judge Craig Shaffer he didn't wish to exercise his right to have diplomatic officials from his home country intervene but might do so in the future. It wasn't clear whether those officials would be from Afghanistan, where he was born, or Pakistan, where he lived as a child.

Zazi will remain in federal custody at least until Thursday, when a detention and preliminary hearing is scheduled.
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Home Front: WoT
Police: NYC imam tipped off terror suspect
2009-09-22
(UPI) -- A New York City Muslim imam, who acted as a police informant, betrayed his handlers by tipping off a terrorism suspect, authorities say.

Ahmad Wais Afzali, of the New York borough of Queens, was among three men arrested during the weekend in connection with an alleged bombing plot. In court records released Sunday, authorities allege Afzali, 37, tipped off suspected plotter Najibullah Zazi that federal agents were looking to arrest him and then lied to police about what he had done, The New York Times reported Monday.

The documents show that Zazi, 24, of Denver, abruptly left New York and returned to Colorado after having wiretapped phone conversations with the imam, which the FBI alleges contained talk of how police were interested in Zazi, mentions of events in Afghanistan and Pakistan and refers to "evidence," the newspaper said.

Federal authorities say that Zazi attended an al-Qaida terrorism training camp in Pakistan and was arrested in possession of notes detailing how to make explosive devices. Court documents indicate that FBI agents moved hurriedly to conduct raids at New York apartments last week based on information gleaned from Zazi's conversations with Afzali, the newspaper said.
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Home Front: WoT
FBI: Bomb-making notes in suspect's handwriting
2009-09-22
Investigators said they found notes describing how to make bombs in the handwriting of an airport shuttle driver arrested as part of a terrorism investigation, and they also discovered his fingerprints on materials -- batteries and a scale -- that could be used to make explosives.

The emerging details show that Najibullah Zazi, who has admitted receiving weapons training from al-Qaida, played a direct role in an alleged terror plot, authorities said in court documents released Sunday.

Zazi, 24, has publicly denied being involved in a terror plot. Zazi, his father, and an imam in New York City were arrested late Saturday on charges of making a false statement to the government, though legal experts say more charges could be coming.

Zazi's defense team denied reports that Zazi considered a plea deal related to terror charges, and Zazi's attorney, Arthur Folsom, dismissed as "rumor" any notion that Zazi played a crucial role. Zazi's defense team did not respond to repeated attempts to reach them Sunday.

Federal officials in Denver declined to comment.

Zazi admitted to FBI agents that he received instructions from al-Qaida operatives on subjects such as weapons and explosives. Court documents filed in Denver say Zazi was speaking with agents under an agreement where he might avoid prosecution.

He received the training in the federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan, the documents say.

The FBI said it found images of nine pages of handwritten notes on a laptop containing formulas and instructions for making bomb, detonators and a fuse.

Zazi told the FBI that he must have unintentionally downloaded the notes as part of a religious book he downloaded in August. Zazi said he "immediately deleted the religious book within days of downloading it after realizing that its contents discussed jihad."

However, an arrest affidavit says the handwriting on the notes appeared to be Zazi's. The affidavit doesn't mention that they were part of a book, but that they were e-mailed as an attachment between accounts believed owned by Zazi in December, including an account that originated in Pakistan.

"It appeared to be consistent with the handwriting as it appeared in the document," an FBI agent wrote of comparisons of Zazi's handwriting with the notes.

In addition, agents found Zazi's fingerprints on a scale and double-A batteries seized during a raid at a home in the New York City borough of Queens on Sept. 14.

Zazi, who lives in the Denver suburb of Aurora, underwent three days of questioning by the FBI before his arrest.

Also arrested were his father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, 53, in Denver; and an associate, Ahmad Wais Afzali, 37, of New York City, the Justice Department said Sunday. Both also were charged with making false statements to federal agents, which carries a penalty of eight years in prison.

Court appearances for all three were set for today.
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Home Front: WoT
3 arrested for false statements in terror probe
2009-09-20
It's AP, so here's the summary. Lots of interesting details at the link.
Zazi, his father,and a friend, Ahmad Wais Afzali, 37, of Queens, N.Y., all arrested for making false statements to the Feds about their involvement in terror. The charge carries eight years in prison. Arraignment before the court is scheduled for Monday.
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