Suspect in N.Y. terror plot has Canadian connection

Saturday, September 26, 2009 – Globe and Mail
PAUL KORING, COLIN FREEZE AND ANNA MEHLER PAPERNY

WASHINGTON and TORONTO — Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan accused of plotting to plant terrorist bombs in New York, travelled back and forth to Canada and Pakistan, U.S. government prosecutors said yesterday.

The Globe and Mail has confirmed that Mr. Zazi travelled to Mississauga.

“Yeah, it’s the same guy,” said Maimoona Zazi, his aunt by marriage, who said she watched Mr. Zazi, a Denver bus driver, on television as federal marshals escorted him to a court appearance.

Last night, CSIS agents were knocking on the doors of homes of Mr. Zazi’s relatives in Mississauga, even as the government was refusing to say if its security forces were involved in the case.

U.S. anti-terrorism agents had apparently been following Mr. Zazi for more than a year when he flew from New York to Peshawar, Pakistan.

He returned in January, 2009, and, along with unnamed conspirators, is alleged to have acquired the know-how and the materials to build bombs, using the same explosive brew employed in the deadly 2005 London subway and bus bombings.

Mr. Zazi is charged with “conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction in the United States.” But his aunt insists he is not a terrorist. “He’s a very good Muslim, … a very nice boy,” she said.

U.S. federal agents are still scouring locations in New York and Denver, apparently searching for bombs or partially built bombs and an unknown number of conspirators.

“The FBI is investigating several individuals in the United States, Pakistan and elsewhere, related to the plot to detonate improvised explosive devices,” according to the arrest warrant for Mr. Zazi.

There is no indication that Mr. Zazi’s travel to Canada was linked to the alleged terrorist attack.

Mr. Zazi made two trips to Canada and several to Pakistan, assistant U.S. attorney Tim Neff said in a Denver court yesterday.

Later in the day he was flown to New York where he will face trial.

The 24-year-old man is accused of spending more than a year learning bomb-making skills and then clandestinely buying large quantities of chemicals, which, when properly mixed, would have created a powerful explosives.

According to his aunt, Mr. Zazi’s visit to Canada was to see his grandmother in Mississauga. She has since died. Ms. Zazi said she couldn’t precisely remember the timing of the visit, but believes it lasted for a few days and was “a year or two ago.”

Mr. Zazi seems to have been under close surveillance by U.S. anti-terrorism agents since he returned from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border near Peshawar, a largely lawless frontier zone where al-Qaeda and Taliban hideouts and training camps are located.

The scope and seriousness of the alleged plot remains murky, although published reports quoting unnamed security sources indicate it was the most deadly and serious attack since the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackings that destroyed New York’s twin towns and damaged the Pentagon.

The Canadian travel connection – and Mr. Neff provided the court with no details about where Mr. Zazi had travelled or whether it was linked to the alleged bombing plans – could have serious consequences even if there was no trans-border dimension to the plot.

If Mr. Zazi crossed into Canada and back without triggering anti-terrorist watch lists, it could add to the widespread U.S. perception of Canada is a haven for extremists. As an Afghan citizen legally residing in the United States, Mr. Zazi would have needed a visa to visit Canada. It remains unknown whether Canadian security agencies were aware of his travels or even whether they knew his visits to Canada would be referred to in court yesterday.

CSIS and the RCMP had no comment yesterday on the case.

In Washington, U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder said: “We believe any imminent threat arising from this case has been disrupted, but as always, we remind the American public to be vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to law enforcement.”

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