2 more men arrested in suspected plot to bomb New York targets

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NEW YORK
Federal authorities Friday arrested two more men in connection with an
alleged plot to use hair dye and other beauty products to make bombs
for use against targets in New York. The arrests bring the total number of suspects held in the case to five.

Both of the newly arrested men, Adis Medunjanin, 25, and Zarein Ahmedzay, 24, live in the New York borough of Queens and were high school classmates of Najibullah Zazi, 24, an Afghan immigrant charged with conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction after the case unfolded last September.

Zazi, who was arrested while living in Colorado but brought back to New York to face charges, has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail. His father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, of Colorado, and a Queens imam, Ahmad Wais Afzali, who had worked as a New York police informant, are charged with lying to authorities investigating the case. They pleaded not guilty and are free on bail.

At the time of the initial arrests, authorities said
they were searching for at least a dozen people in what they described
as the first al-Qaida-linked plot on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The latest arrests come as federal officials face
questions over how they missed signals pointing to another apparent
al-Qaida-linked plot involving a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk
Abdulmutallab, who tried to set off explosives on a jet preparing to
land in Detroit on Christmas Day. Abdulmutallab pleaded innocent to the charges in federal court in Detroit on Friday.

It was not immediately clear what charges Medunjanin and Ahmedzay might face. Robert Gottlieb, an attorney for Medunjanin, said his client knew Zazi.

“He grew up in the same community. Whether or not
that triggered it (the investigation) or whether or not something else
triggered the focus on him … that is not a substitute for evidence he
in fact is guilty,” Gottlieb said.

Last October, Gottlieb said Medunjanin spent several
hours with investigators. Authorities at that time also met with
Ahmedzay, his brother, Nazir, told The Associated Press.
Their pictures were among several that had been shown earlier to
Afzali, whom police had used to gather information about Zazi before
his arrest. Afzali ended up under arrest himself when authorities
accused him of tipping off Zazi about the investigation.

An FBI spokesman in New York, Richard Kolko, said the agency believed both men were “associates” of Zazi.

The arrests followed a confusing chain of events that began Thursday afternoon when members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York showed up at Medunjanin’s apartment and seized his passport.

Later in the day, Medunjanin suffered minor injuries in a car crash. New York’s Daily News
quoted an unidentified law enforcement official as saying Medunjanin
rear-ended another vehicle after becoming flustered while being
followed by authorities. Medunjanin was arrested before dawn after his
release from a Queens hospital.

Ahmedzay, a taxi driver, was arrested while on duty.
Nobody answered the phone at Medunjanin’s home Friday afternoon. A
woman who picked up the phone at Ahmedzay’s home said she did not speak
enough English to answer questions and hung up.

The Daily News reported that Ahmedzay’s mother, who would not give her name, described her son as “a good man.” “He is innocent,” she said.

The seizure of Medunjanin’s passport suggested that
officials were investigating whether he had accompanied Zazi when he
traveled to Pakistan last year for what prosecutors say was training by al-Qaida.

According to the charges against Zazi, he conspired
with others to use products purchased at beauty-supply stores to make
bombs that were planned to go off in New York, possibly in conjunction with the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Before Zazi’s arrest, officials raided the homes of several of his known associates, including Medunjanin and Ahmedzay, in Queens.

Najibullah Zazi grew up in Queens after coming to the United States from Afghanistan with his family when he was 14. Ahmedzay is also originally from Afghanistan, and Medunjanin is Bosnian.

Since the younger Zazi’s arrest, his attorney, J. Michael Dowling,
has challenged prosecutors to make additional arrests to back up the
conspiracy charge. “Unless Mr. Zazi has an agreement with one or more
people to commit an unlawful act, this conspiracy charge cannot be
sustained,” Dowling said after a September court appearance by his
client.

At his last court hearing in December, prosecutors
said they did not anticipate the case coming to trial until this fall
at the earliest because of the “voluminous” amount of material gathered
in the investigation, much of it in communications that would require
translations from Dari, Arabic and other languages into English. They
also said they expected additional charges to be filed against Zazi but
did not say what those charges might be.

(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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