By Danielle Bengsch, contributed reporting Althea Fung
Najibullah Zazi listened attentively to U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie in Federal District Court in Brooklyn today as he listed the charges: Zazi was alleged to be part of a conspiracy of planning an attack with weapons of mass destruction, being part of a conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country and to have collected material for Al Qaeda.
Zazi, a 25-year old Afghan raised in Queens, pleaded guilty to all three terrorist charges. He was calm and soft-spoken: “Yes, your honor,” he said three times. Dressed in a dark-blue jumpsuit with a white T-shirt underneath, he stood still next to his attorney, William Stampur.
Zazi spoke about his terror attack plot in court, reading a text that he had prepared with a flat voice and an Arabic accent. In 2008 he wanted to go to Afghanistan. “To do what?” Dearie asked. “To join the Taliban,” Zazi answered. But Zazi flew from Newark International Airport to Peshawar, Pakistan, where he was recruited by Al Qaeda. He said that he had received training there and that Al Qaeda leaders had asked him to attack in the United States. He said he had also discussed possible targets with them. Zazi wanted to become a suicide bomber in the New York City subway system. But Zazi he did not want to call it suicide bombing in front of the judge and roughly 50 courtroom observers, almost all journalists. He said, “It would mean to sacrifice myself to bring attention to what the military is doing to the people in Afghanistan.”
When Zazi returned to the United States he traveled back and forth from Denver to New York. He bought beauty products containing hydrogen peroxide to build his bomb, following the instructions that he got during his training in Pakistan and had e-mailed to himself. He became known as the “Beauty Parlor Bomber” when he was arrested Sept. 19, 2009, before he could fulfill his plan. In court, Zazi admitted that he had brought TATP (Triaceton Triperoxide) explosives back with him to New York, but got rid of the chemicals, when he noticed that he was under investigation.
The judge cited an agreement between both sides. Zazi will probably spend the rest of his life in prison, but there is no sentence yet. For the first two charges the agreement suggests a term of life in prison and fines of about $700,000. For the third charge Zazi can expect 15 years to life in prison, and a fine of up to $350,000. In a calm voice Dearie asked Zazi: “This information does not come as a suprise for you?” Again, Zazi replied: “Yes, your honor.”
The attorneys on both sides declined to comment. The prosecutors suggested June 25 as a date for sentencing.
Zazi was an airport shuttle driver at Denver International Airport when he was arrested in September 2009 as part of an Al Qaeda group accused of planning to carry out acts of terrorism.
He rented a car and drove from Colorado to New York City. He was pulled over on the George Washington Bridge for what he was told was a routine traffic stop and his car was searched. In the search, federal agents found images of nine pages of handwritten notes on how to make explosives, detonators and fuses.
On Sept. 16, Zazi went into the Denver FBI office for a voluntary interview that lasted eight hours. He denied knowing about suspicious documents that were found on the hard drive of his computer but in an interview the next day admitted to having training in explosives and weapons.
Zazi was born in Afghanistan and raised in Pakistan. He immigrated to the United States in 1999 and attended Flushing High School in Queens.