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Denver Suspect Charged In Bomb Plot

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

I'm Robert Siegel.

And we begin this hour with an indictment in a possible terrorist plot against targets in the United States. A federal grand jury in New York has charged a 24-year-old airport shuttle bus driver with plotting to detonate homemade bombs in the U.S. According to the indictment, Najibullah Zazi had been planning for more than a year. Authorities say he bought the chemicals that he needed from beauty supply and home-improvement stores.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has been following this story since it first broke last week. And she joins us from New York. Dina, this new indictment came just before Zazi, who lives near Denver, was supposed to appear in court there on charges that he lied to federal authorities. Why did this new indictment come now?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the new indictment came now because Zazi was going to have this bail hearing in Denver. And because he'd only been arrested for lying to a federal agent, which is a fairly minor charge, the concern was that he might be allowed out on bail. And they certainly didn't want that to happen. So these new charges came out from prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York. And that's where a lot of these terrorism trials have been done here in this country.

And the indictment itself is actually only a couple of pages long. It says Zazi knowingly and intentionally conspired to use one or more weapons of mass destruction against people and property in the United States. And by weapons of mass destruction, what the authorities mean are bombs. Now we should say right away that while Zazi has not answered these new charges directly yet, he has said publicly that he's not a terrorist, and he's not involved in any sort of plot.

SIEGEL: We've been hearing that Najibullah Zazi admitted to training in explosives at an al-Qaida camp in Pakistan. What else have prosecutors revealed about this case?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, what's interesting about this is that there are a handful of new details that have come out with this latest filling. For example, until now we thought that Zazi had traveled alone to Pakistan. He'd originally said he went there to visit his wife. Now, the Justice Department says it can prove he traveled with other people. And that's important because we haven't heard about any arrest of other co-conspirators in this case.

The Justice Department also says it found instructions for making the same kind of explosive used in the 2005 London train bombings - they found on Zazi's computer. The main ingredients are hydrogen peroxide, acetone and a strong acid. So in other words, these are things that you can buy pretty easily. And investigators say Zazi actually brought unusually large quantities of hydrogen peroxide and acetone products from a beauty supply store in the Denver area. Now, that sounds a little strange until you think about the fact that acetone is found in nail polish remover, and peroxide is found in a lot of hair products.

And the Justice Department says it actually has Zazi on surveillance cameras making these purchases. And they say he went to home-improvement stores in Denver to pick up other chemicals he needed. And lastly, the Justice Department says that there were other people helping Zazi buy these products - again, very significant because the only other arrests in this case are Zazi's father and an imam in Queens, New York, both of whom are charged with lying.

SIEGEL: Now the indictment describes him taking a hotel room in Denver - or in Colorado, at least - on September 6th and 7th, and communicating urgently by email with other people. Does the indictment say that he actually tried to build a bomb?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the FBI apparently tested his hotel room and found acetone residue in the vent above the stove. The reason why that's important is in order to do this sort of thing, you need to concentrate the actual chemicals. But that doesn't say that he actually built a bomb.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Dina.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: It's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, speaking to us from New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.