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Three Suspects Arrested In U.S. Terrorism Probe


FBI Director Robert S. Mueller speaking about terrorism at a conference in February

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller speaking about terrorism at a conference in February

DENVER (Reuters) -- A Colorado man, his father and an accused accomplice in New York have been arrested and charged with lying to federal agents about a plot to blow up unspecified targets in the United States, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Najibullah Zazi, 24, a native of Afghanistan who works as an airport shuttle bus driver, was questioned by the FBI for three days, and his father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, 53, were taken into custody at an apartment in the Denver suburb of Aurora on September 19.

Also arrested was Ahmad Wais Afzali, 37, a native of Afghanistan who was living in the Queens borough of New York City, a Department of Justice spokesman said.

"The arrests carried out tonight are part of an ongoing and fast-paced investigation," David Kris, 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," Kris said.

All three men were expected to make initial court appearances on September 21, Najibullah Zazi and Mohammed Zazi in Denver and Afzali in New York, and each faces a possible eight years in prison if convicted.

According to affidavits filed in the case which document contacts between the three men and Najibullah Zazi's travels between Pakistan and the United States, FBI agents who searched Zazi's rented car on September 11 found a laptop computer containing instructions on the manufacture of explosive devices.

The affidavit says Zazi falsely told agents he had never seen the documents before or written them, but admitted that during a trip to Pakistan he received instruction on weapons and explosives at an al Qaeda training facility in Pakistan.

'It's Not True'

Afzali is accused of lying when he told agents in a written statement that he had never warned Zazi and his father that authorities had sought information about them and that their phones were being monitored.

Mohammed Zazi was accused of falsely denying that he knew and had contacted Afzali.

The arrests came after talks between Zazi and federal authorities, which had stretched over three days, apparently broke down on September 19 and the suspect declined a fourth meeting, choosing to consult with his lawyers instead.

In a telephone interview with the Denver Post newspaper on the morning of September 19, Zazi said that contrary to media reports he had not admitted any link to al Qaeda or participating in training with the group in Pakistan.

"It's not true," Zazi told the newspaper. "I have nothing to hide. It's all media publications reporting whatever they want. They have been reporting all this nonsense."

FBI Director Robert Mueller has reassured lawmakers in Washington that there is no imminent security threat related to the investigation surrounding Zazi, but has declined to elaborate publicly on the probe.

FBI agents entered Zazi's residence on afternoon the afternoon of September 16 with a search warrant and the entire three-story apartment building was roped off with yellow crime-scene tape.

Authorities put black screens over the building's windows to prevent onlookers from seeing inside, and a house a few miles away was likewise cordoned off.

Before the Denver-area raids began, three local public schools were locked down as a precaution, with students kept inside until they were picked up by their parents.

The questioning of Zazi came days after he traveled to New York City.

He was stopped by authorities on September 10 while driving a rental car on the George Washington Bridge, which connects New York City with New Jersey, but Zazi later returned to Colorado by airplane, his lawyer said.

Early on September 14, a joint anti-terrorism task force carried out a series of raids in an area of the Queens borough of New York where he had visited over the weekend. The raids rattled some residents as they came days after the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

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