Zazi trial could be next fall

By Connor Adams Sheets

Federal prosecutors said last Thursday they may file new charges in the case against Najibullah Zazi, the former Flushing man accused of planning an alQaeda terror attack on New York City, and the case may go to trial as early as next fall.

“I think it’s likely there will be additional charges,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Knox during a hearing at federal court in Brooklyn. “We’re still evaluating the evidence, but my expectation at this point is that we will be seeking a superseding indictment.”

Prosecutors did not list possible new charges or indicate whether any other individuals will be indicted, but Zazi, 24, already faces charges of using explosive devices against persons or property in the United States, acts which he denies.

Defense attorney Michael Dowling said during a post-hearing news conference in front of the court that Knox’s remarks were “the first we’ve heard of” any new charges.

“I’m not sure what they intend to do, so we’ll just have to see,” he said. “They’re only charging him with conspiracy, so maybe they’ll charge him with a non-conspiracy count.”

Knox estimated that it would take three months for prosecutors to complete discovery, then the defense would need time to review materials and file pre-trial motions, which would make the fall the earliest the case could go to trial.

But Dowling called a fall date a “kind of optimistic” goal, saying that discovery, which Knox said will involve efforts such as translation of conversations from Arabic, Pashto and Dari, will be time-consuming, and that the trial will probably begin even later.

Dowling also discussed Zazi’s current circumstances in 23-hour-a-day lockup in the Secured Housing Unit at the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison in Brooklyn. Zazi attended the hearing last Thursday.

“He’s doing well considering his situation. He’s not depressed. He’s in fairly good condition,” he said, adding “his family’s in Denver. I don’t know if they have the means financially to visit him. He gets one phone call a month.”

Judge Raymond Dearie set the date of a second status conference, recommended by Knox in light of the “voluminous” discovery materials, for Feb. 16 at 11 a.m.

In August 2008, Zazi, an Afghan immigrant who lived in Flushing until earlier this year, and other unidentified individuals traveled to Pakistan for a trip that lasted nearly 16 months, during which he was being trained for an attack against the West, according to federal investigators.

During that time, he received e-mail messages containing information on how to make explosives similar to the ones used in the summer 2005 bombings in London, according to the criminal complaint.

After he returned to the United States in January, he moved from Flushing to Colorado and in the summer purchased bomb-making materials from beauty salons and hardware stores, the complaint said.

On Sept. 10, Zazi arrived in Flushing in a rented car and stayed at an undisclosed area in the neighborhood, according to the complaint. Investigators said Zazi and other co-conspirators were preparing for a terrorist attack against the city’s mass transit system around the time of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. A search of Zazi’s vehicle by the FBI uncovered notes for making a bomb, according to investigators.

Zazi flew back to Colorado Sept. 12 and was subsequently questioned by the authorities. The suspect had learned directly that he was being watched by the investigators while he was visiting Flushing, according to the criminal complaint.

He was arrested Sept. 20 and extradited back to New York Sept. 25.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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