The man arrested last month for allegedly plotting to blow up targets in New York contacted one of Osama bin Laden's right-hand men, U.S. intelligence officials say.
Officials say Denver shuttle bus driver Najibullah Zazi used an intermediary to contact Mustafa al-Yazid, the head of al-Qaida's operations in Afghanistan. Yazid is perhaps best known for saying earlier this year that he would use nuclear weapons against the U.S. if only he could get his hands on them. The Zazi connection to Yazid was first reported by The Associated Press.
While officials would not characterize the nature of their contact, the fact that Zazi could actually reach out and get hold of a top al-Qaida operative in Afghanistan is significant. This is the third time in the past few years that al-Qaida's top leadership appears to have given recruits with U.S. ties some sort of special consideration or attention.
"I think al-Qaida is always in search of interesting operatives who can operate in the West, and in particular, in the United States," said Juan Zarate, a former deputy national security adviser for terrorism in the Bush administration.
Could Have Been A 'Coup' For Al-Qaida
Zazi appears to fit the profile of an "interesting operative." He's an Afghan immigrant who had lived in the U.S. for 10 years. His lawyer told NPR that Zazi was about to apply for his green card. Until he was arrested last month, he had never been in trouble with the law. And because of those factors, he was able to move freely around the U.S.
Zarate says that combination would have been a coup for al-Qaida. "A coup for al-Qaida in this instance would be the ability to create the kind of threat in the homeland that al-Qaida has tried to foment ever since 9/11," said Zarate. "And I think that, for authorities, is the chilling dimension of this."
Authorities say Zazi, 24, trained at an al-Qaida camp in Pakistan last year. They accuse Zazi of trying to make homemade explosives using ingredients from beauty supply stores purchased in the Denver area. The FBI says it found chemical residue consistent with bomb-making in a hotel room Zazi rented just days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks....