NEW YORK (CBS) ― Najibullah Zazi, the Denver man believed to be the central figure in a terror plot against the New York City transit system, has officially been indicted on charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against persons or property in the United States, CBS 2 has learned.
Zazi was scheduled to appear in court on Thursday in Denver on a count of lying to terrorism investigators. The new charge of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction was filed in New York City, and authorities plan to transfer him to the federal court in Brooklyn to face the new charges.
Zazi has publicly denied making any terrorist plots. Counterterrorist agents fear he and others may have been planning to detonate homemade bombs on New York City commuter trains. Zazi's father, 53-year-old Mohammed Zazi, and the Queens Imam Ahmad Afzali were also charged with lying to investigators in the case.
Afzali was ordered freed on $1.5 million bail, and elder Zazi was set free under court supervision until an Oct. 9 hearing.
US Attorney General Eric Holder said they are investigating a wide range of leads related to the alleged conspiracy, but that any imminent threat from the case has been disrupted.
"I think we've disrupted that which they've planned and it's not totally clear to us at this point what they had in mind, although I think it is clear something very serious and something organized was underway," Holder said.
In court documents released Thursday morning, the Justice Department said Zazi and unnamed others purchased large quantities of hydrogen peroxide and acetone products from beauty supply stores in the Denver metropolitan area. The government said evidence, including surveillance videos, will prove Zazi and the other made repeat purchases of the chemicals over the last three months. The newly revealed evidence coupled with the discovery of backpacks and cell phones in the recent Queens raid add to the suspicion that Zazi and his partner were intending on developing portable bombs for use at multiple targets.
According to the Department of Justice, "a federal grand jury in Brooklyn returned a one-count indictment alleging that between Aug. 1, 2008 and Sept. 21, 2009, Zazi knowingly and intentionally conspired with others to use one or more weapons of mass destruction, specifically explosive bombs and other similar explosive devices, against persons or property within the United States. The indictment also alleges that Zazi and others traveled in interstate and foreign commerce, used email and the Internet, and that this offense and the results of the offense would have affected interstate and foreign commerce."
"Each communication," the papers say, was "more urgent than the last."
On those days, Zazi rented a suite at a hotel in his hometown of Aurora, Colo., authorities charge. The room had a kitchen, and subsequent FBI testing for explosives and residue in the suite found the presence of residue in the vent above the stove.
If convicted, Zazi faces up to life in prison.
Click here to see Zazi's complete indictment (pdf)
According to a detention motion filed, "Zazi received detailed bomb-making instructions in Pakistan, purchased components of improvised explosive devices, and traveled to New York City on September 10, 2009 in furtherance of his criminal plans."
Authorities have said they found bomb-making instructions on a hard drive on Zazi's laptop computer, but still were unsure of the specific target or scope of a possible terrorist attack.
On Wednesday, the NYPD was showing a new training video in precincts citywide detailing the intelligence from the agencies. Bomb Squad Commander Lt. Marc Torre narrates the video, giving regular cops some tips on how to spot evidence of homemade bombs.
"Of particular concern to us is a family of explosives called peroxide-based explosives," he says in the video.
It's part of the now-nationwide alert as police try to locate whoever might have been working with terror suspect Zazi. Police are being told to watch for any large quantities of hydrogen peroxide, drain cleaner, acetone, or nail polish remover – various types of acids – and large quantities of ammonia nitrate or urea fertilizer.
That's coupled with visits to public storage areas to enlist the assistance of employees there, and stepped-up security on mass transit, hotels, stadiums, and entertainment complexes.
The first arrests came after the raids of several apartments in the Queens neighborhood, where Zazi had driven from Denver to visit earlier this month, and were followed by a flurry of nationwide warnings of possible strikes on transit, sports and entertainment complexes.
On Wednesday, hundreds of federal agents and NYPD investigators again fanned out in the neighborhood where apartments were searched -- and backpacks and cell phones removed -- over a week ago, to re-interview "people previously encountered" during previous raids there, and to locate others who know them, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the probe.
The effort also includes a review of phone and other records that could link potential suspects to one another or identify new ones.
"Many of the people we've spoken to have been cooperative," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because the investigation is ongoing.
The official said business owners also are on the list of possible witnesses in a potential homemade-bomb plot. The official declined to identify those businesses, but authorities regularly monitor sales by suppliers of chemicals that could be used in improvised explosives.
But questions lingered about whether early missteps hindered the investigation. A criminal complaint suggests police acting without the FBI's knowledge might have inadvertently blown the surveillance and forced investigators' hand by questioning Afzali -- considered a trusted police source in the community -- about Zazi and other possible plotters.
The imam, it says, turned around and tipped off Zazi by calling him the next day and saying in a recorded conversation, "They asked me about you guys."
The detectives referred to in the recently unsealed criminal complaint work for a division that operates independently from an FBI-run terrorism task force.
Police officials say that their investigators reached out to Afzali -- showing him pictures of four possible suspects to identify, including Zazi -- only after receiving fresh information from the terrorism task force that a terrorism plot was possibly in progress.
In a joint statement, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Joe Demarest, head of the FBI office in New York, denied reports that the questioning of Afzali and his alleged betrayal had caused a rift between the agencies.
The New York Times, quoting unnamed current and former police officials, reported in Thursday editions that the New York Police Department transferred two commanders this week, including one from its counterterrorism bureau. NYPD top spokesman Paul Browne would not confirm the transfers or comment late Wednesday.
IF CONVICTED, THIS GUY FACES LIFE IMPRISONMENT.