Authorities say that terrorism suspect Najibullah Zazi has made several trips to Canada, raising concern among investigators that Zazi may have tried to organize a terror cell in that country. Canada has been the target of several alleged al Qaeda plots.
The information was revealed at a court hearing for Zazi today in Denver. Meanwhile, Zazi's lawyers say he will be transferred to New York City tomorrow to face terrorism charges at the Eastern District Court in Brooklyn.
Prosecutor Tim Neff said "The evidence suggests a chilling, disturbing sequence of events showing the defendant was intent on making a bomb and being in NY on 9/11 for purposes of perhaps using such items."
At the hearing, the charge of lying to a federal agent in a terrorism investigation was dropped, but the 24-year old former airport shuttle driver will now face more serious terrorism charges in New York.
Zazi was brought into a courtroom on the second floor of the Alfred J. Arraj federal courthouse just before 9 a.m. Mountain time in handcuffs and wearing a jail-issued white t-shirt and tan colored pants. He conferred with attorneys Arthur Folsom and Michael Dowling.
Federal Magistrate Judge Craig Shaffer began by dismissing the charge of making false statements and then advised Zazi of his rights in the New York terrorism case that accuses him of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction-- bombs and other explosives-- against persons or property in the United States.
The judge asked Zazi if he understood the charges, including the potential sentence of life in prison if he is convicted.
"Yes, your honor," Zazi responded.
The hearing then turned towards the issue of whether Zazi should be released pending trial.
Government prosecutor Tim Neff argued to have Mr. Zazi kept in custody until trial. Folsom objected.
"We are operating under the assumption that the defendant is a danger," Neff said.
Neff said that Zazi has few ties to the country, has been fired from his job, evicted from his home, and has only $1,000 in cash and a bankruptcy on his record. That, combined, with frequent overseas trips to Pakistan and across the border to Canada make Zazi "a significant flight risk."
"He's not a good candidate to remain in the community," said Neff.
Neff went on to outline what he called "strong" evidence against Zazi, including handwritten bomb-making instructions found on his computer, purchases of bomb making ingredients like hydrogen peroxide, as well as fingerprints discovered on a scale and batteries found during a raid on a New York apartment where Zazi stayed.
Zazi's attorney Art Folsom argued that since Zazi flew from New York to Colorado on September 12 instead of trying to make an escape to another country, he could have tried an escape but didn't.
"He is not a flight risk of any kind," said Folsom.
Folsom argued that the chemicals needed to make the explosive TATP-- such as hydrogen peroxide, muriatic acid and acetone-- are liquids and not measured on a scale. He also said that no traces of any of those chemicals were found in Zazi's car or his home.
"He is of no danger to the community," said Folsom, who suggested Zazi could be electronically monitored if freed.
Ultimately, Judge Shaffer ruled Zazi will be held in custody until his trial.
"I find considerable evidence or information suggesting these are extremely serious charges," Shaffer said.
In addition to the evidence, Shaffer said that one factor in his decision to hold Mr. Zazi in custody is his lack of strong family ties in Colorado.
"Your family's ties to Colorado are as tenuous as your own," Shaffer told Zazi, who has only lived in Colorado for about nine months.
Throughout the hearing, there was no visible reaction from Mr. Zazi, and it did not appear that any family or friends were present in the courtroom.