By Connor Adams Sheets
The Flushing imam arrested in September in connection with the federal investigation of a terror plot pleaded not guilty Monday to tipping off an alleged terrorist.
Ahmad Wais Afzali, who is from Afghanistan, was indicted on charges of lying to investigators who were tracking reported members of the al Qaeda terrorist group in Queens, according to the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District in Brooklyn.
“I have nothing to hide,” Afzali told reporters after his plea of innocence Monday in federal court in Brooklyn, according to the Associated Press.
He faces up to eight years in prison if convicted of four felony counts of making false statements.
The imam, who works in a funeral home in Woodhaven, is out on $1.5 million bail he posted in September.He is being monitored by an ankle bracelet and restricted by Magistrate Justice Joan Azrack of Brooklyn federal court to his home, workplace, mosques and attorney’s office.
On Sept. 10, the FBI trackedformer Queens resident Najibullah Zazi, who the agency said is a member of al Qaeda, as he drove from Colorado to Flushing and stayed at an undisclosed residence in the Queens community, according to the criminal complaint.
Zazi, an American-born citizen of Afghan descent, was arrested in Colorado in September after federal agents found several bomb-making materials, including beauty products and hydrogen peroxide, in his residence as well as instructions from the Internet on how to use the products to make an explosive, according to the FBI.
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 he was questioned by the police about his whereabouts, according to the FBI.
Zazi also told Afzali 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.
Zazi’s lawyer, Ron Kuby, said in September his client has cooperated with the FBI and the NYPD on the investigation and he did not knowingly tip off Zazi. He blamed the FBI and NYPD for not doing a thorough surveillance job and said Zazi may have figured out he was being investigated after his car was stolen.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.