Najibullah Zazi, the 24-year-old airport shuttle driver from Denver, Colorado who officials say was the ringleader of an alleged terror plot against New York City, was charged with conspiracy to use explosive bombs Thursday morning – the latest indication that authorities still believe the alleged attack plan was "the real deal."
The one-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury alleges that Zazi "conspired with others to use explosive devices against persons or property in the United States," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
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Zazi and his father Mohammad were in Colorado court this morning for a detention hearing. Mohammad Zazi, charged with lying to federal agents, was released this afternoon. His travel will be restricted to Colorado and he will have to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.
The government alleges that between Aug. 1 and Sept. 21, the day Zazi was arrested in Colorado and charged with lying to federal agents, he "knowingly and intentionally conspired with others to use one or more weapons of mass destruction." The Justice Department says it will now request his initial charge be dismissed and that he be transferred to the Eastern District of New York to be arraigned on the conspiracy to detonate bombs charge.
Officials believe Zazi received "detailed bomb-making instructions in Pakistan, purchased components of improvised explosive devices, and traveled to New York City on September 10, 2009 in furtherance of his criminal plans," according to a detention motion filing. In addition, the document says Zazi conducted "extensive research on the internet regarding components of explosive devices."
Before his arrest, Zazi denied any al Qaeda ties to television cameras.
Zazi's attorney Arthur Folsom had no comment "at this time" about the latest charge.
Alleged Ringleader of NYC Terror Attack Plot
Zazi, who authorities say appears to be the ringleader of the alleged plot, has been tracked by the FBI and the CIA for more than a year, during which time he has traveled twice to Pakistan for explosives training from al Qaeda.
Court records show Zazi ran up more than $50,000 in debt on 20 credit cards, leading to concerns he was preparing for a suicide mission. He declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Mar. 2009, and while he told investigators he had been traveling to Pakistan see his wife, he checked the "not married" box on his application form.
Imam Ahmed Afzali to Appear in Brooklyn Court Thursday
The third man arrested this weekend, Queens, NY resident Ahmed Afzali, is set to appear in a Brooklyn court today for a detention hearing. He is also charged with making false statements to federal agents and is alleged to have falsely told authorities that he didn't tell the Zazis he had been asked by officials about them.
Afzali's attorney Ron Kuby told ABC News that his client, a respected imam at a Queens, NY mosque who had worked as a source for law enforcement in the past, was doing what authorities asked him to do.
"It was the government that went to him and said we need to know the whereabouts of Najibullah Zazi," Kuby said. He said that Afzali then reached out to others to find Zazi, located and spoke to him, and then "duly reported this to the FBI."
Holder, in his statement, said authorities are following numerous leads in the case, and while they believe "any imminent threat arising from this case has been disrupted…we remind the American public to be vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to law enforcement."
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin this week to law enforcement authorities urging vigilance at so-called "soft targets" including sports stadiums and luxury hotels.
ABCNews.com reported Monday that Zazi's computer contained information relating to New York area baseball and football stadiums and a video of Grand Central Terminal in New York.
Clayton Sandell and Jason Ryan contributed to this report.