U.S. Officials Say Zazi Had Links to Bin Laden's Inner Circle

Najibullah Zazi arrives at a federal building in Denver on Sept. 17. He is accused of plotting a bombing in New York.
Najibullah Zazi arrives at a federal building in Denver on Sept. 17. He is accused of plotting a bombing in New York. (By Marc Piscotty -- Getty Images)
By Brett J. Blackledge
Associated Press
Thursday, October 15, 2009

The airport shuttle driver accused of plotting a bombing in New York had contacts with al-Qaeda that went nearly to the top, to an Osama bin Laden confidant believed to be the terrorist group's leader in Afghanistan, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, an Egyptian reputed to be one of the founders of the terrorist network, used a middleman to contact Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan immigrant charged in the plot, two intelligence officials said. Officials declined to say whether al-Yazid offered Zazi mere encouragement or substantive help with the alleged plot.

Al-Yazid's contact with Zazi, 24, indicates that al-Qaeda leadership took an intense interest in what U.S. officials have called one of the most serious terrorism threats crafted on U.S. soil since the 9/11 attacks.

"I think that it would suggest the Zazi was taken seriously by al-Qaeda, and that they wanted him to feel encouraged and supported," said Charles S. Faddis, who headed the weapons of mass destruction unit at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center until he retired in May 2008. "It may also have meant that they were attempting to determine to what extent he represented an opportunity to do something inside the United States."

The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the case remains under investigation, declined to describe al-Yazid's specific interaction with Zazi, who has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. intelligence officials have said earlier that Zazi had contact with an unnamed senior al-Qaeda operative. Prosecutors have said that Zazi was recruited and trained by al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

Zazi, who is being held without bond in New York while awaiting trial, has denied receiving al-Qaeda training or visiting one of the group's training camps. He said before his arrest that he traveled to Pakistan to see his wife, who lives in Peshawar.

Al-Yazid, 53, also known as Abu Saeed al-Masri and Sheikh Said, is a well-known al-Qaeda figure who initially disagreed with bin Laden's 9/11 plot, according to the 9/11 Commission report. Al-Yazid was known at the time of the attack as head of al-Qaeda's finance committee.

He proclaimed in a June interview with al-Jazeera television that al-Qaeda would use nuclear weapons in its fight against the United States.

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