The Afghan-born man at the center of an anti-terrorism probe was determined to make a bomb and perhaps detonate it in New York City on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, before he was thwarted by authorities, a US prosecutor said on Friday.
Assistant US Attorney Tim Neff summed up the government's case against Najibullah Zazi, 24, in a Denver courtroom before the suspect was flown in federal custody to New York to face a charge of plotting bomb attacks in the United States.
Zazi, linked by authorities to al Qaeda, was making his third appearance before a federal judge in Denver. He was ordered to remain held without bail, then put aboard a US Marshals Service jet for the cross-country flight. His first New York court appearance is set for Tuesday.
Zazi has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in media interviews and through his lawyers. "There was and is no plot," defense attorney Arthur Folsom told Reuters by phone from Denver.
Zazi is accused of receiving bomb-making instructions during a trip to Pakistan last year, then buying and preparing chemicals for use in home-made explosives like those used in the deadly London mass transit bombings in 2005.
A grand jury in New York has charged Zazi, a legal US resident born in Afghanistan, under federal anti-terrorism laws with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, an offense outlined in an indictment unsealed on Thursday. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.
Law enforcement experts have called the suspected conspiracy, if proven, one of the most significant security threats in the United States since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Authorities say the case is unrelated to two other security arrests this week in Dallas and Springfield, Illinois.
The investigation came to light earlier this month after Zazi drove across the country from Colorado, arriving in New York City on Sept. 10 in a rental car in which authorities say he carried a laptop computer with detailed bomb-making notes.
'DISTURBING SEQUENCE OF EVENTS'
Neff, arguing in court that Zazi should remain in custody, said the evidence showed "a chilling, disturbing sequence of events that indicate the defendant was intent on making a bomb and being in New York on 9/11, perhaps using such items." "The evidence suggests the defendant was in the throes of making a bomb," he said.
Prosecutors say Zazi, who worked as a shuttle bus driver at the Denver airport after moving to Colorado this year, visited Pakistan several times and Canada twice in the past 10 years.
Folsom insisted his client traveled to Pakistan for innocuous reasons -- once to see a dying relative, a second time to get married and twice more to visit his wife.
Folsom also disputed the FBI's assertion in an affidavit filed last week that Zazi had said under questioning that he attended an al Qaeda training facility while in Pakistan.
"I was sitting next to him for 27-plus hours and he certainly didn't confess to anything like that," Folsom said.
Court documents accompanying the indictment against Zazi say he and at least three other unnamed associates purchased large amounts of hydrogen peroxide and acetone products from beauty supply stores over the summer to use in bombs.
Folsom said authorities had yet to claim the discovery of any explosives, chemicals or bomb-making residue in searches of Zazi's home, the car he drove or places he stayed in New York.
Authorities have said they are continuing an investigation that has so far focused on Zazi, suggesting more arrests are possible in New York and Colorado. They have not made clear whether they consider Zazi a conspiracy leader or someone acting at the behest of others.
He was arrested last Saturday on charges of lying to federal agents investigating the case following three days of intense questioning by the FBI in Denver. US Magistrate Judge Craig Shaffer dismissed that charge at prosecutors' request, a move that made it easier to transfer him to New York.
The suspect's father, Mohammed Zazi, and a New York imam, Ahmad Afzali, accused of having tipped off the younger Zazi that he was under scrutiny, also were arrested on charges making false statements. They were released on Thursday but ordered placed under electronic monitoring.