Flushing imam out on bail after indictment

Imam Ahmad Wais Afzali and his wife Fatimah leave U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Ivan Pereira

The Flushing imam accused of tipping off an alleged terrorist was released on bail Thursday after his family put together $1.5 million in assets to make his bail.

Ahmad Wais Afzali left Brooklyn federal court Thursday with his wife, brothern, sister-in-law and parents and headed back to his home as the FBI shed new evidence in the ongoing terrorist investigation that has swept up the imam.

Afzali’s kin, all of whom are Afghans, put up their family house on Parsons Boulevard as collateral for the hefty bail bond after he was indicted on charges of lying to investigators who were tracking reported members of the al-Qaida terrorist group in Queens.

“The imam did not blow this case. Law enforcement blew this case,” Ron Kuby, the imam’s lawyer, told reporters outside the court.

Afzali, who works at a funeral home in Woodhaven, will be monitored by an ankle bracelet and was restricted by Magistrate Justice Joan M. Azrack to his home, work place, mosques and attorney’s office.

“If you don’t come back to court, they’re going to be ruined financially,” the judge warned the imam about what his relatives stood to lose.

The bail came hours after the federal government unsealed the indictment against the suspected terrorist he was in contact with.

On Sept. 10, the FBI were closely watching former Queens resident Najibullah Zazi, who drove from Colorado to Flushing and stayed at an undisclosed residence there, the criminal complaint said. Zazi, who is a American-born citizen of Afghan descent, was arrested in Colorado Monday after federal agents found several bomb-making materials, including beauty products and hydrogen peroxide, in his residence as well as several instructions from the Internet on how to use the products to make an explosive, according to the FBI.

Zazi, who the FBI says is a member of al-Qaida, was charged with a conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction Thursday.

Afzali, who has worked as an informant for the NYPD, met with investigators who questioned him about information involving Zazi and other suspected terrorists and he complied with their requests, the criminal complaint said.

On Sept. 11, the FBI intercepted a phone conversation between Zazi and the imam, in which Afzali allegedly told Zazi that he was questioned by the police about his whereabouts, according to the FBI.

Zazi also told Afzali that his rental car was stolen and he feared he was being watched, the complaint said. The imam asked Zazi if he had any “evidence” in the car, but the Colorado man said no, according to the complaint.

The authorities conducted a search of the rental car and found notes for making a bomb, according to the complaint. Zazi flew back to Colorado but was later questioned and arrested by the FBI along with his father.

Six days later, Afzali was questioned again by the authorities, who asked him about the phone conversations with Zazi, the complaint said. Afzali’s recollection of the conversations did not include the statement about the “evidence” in the car and the imam was taken into custody and charged with lying to investigators, the FBI said.

Kuby said that his client has co-operated with the FBI and the NYPD on the investigation and he did not knowingly tip off Zazi. He blamed the FBI and the NYPD for not doing a through surveillance job and said Zazi may have figured out that he was being investigated after his car was stolen.

“You don’t have to be the sharpest pencil in the terrorist box to realize ‘Gee, they’re on to me,’” the attorney said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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