NEW YORK - A federal grand jury in Brooklyn indicted a 24-year-old Denver man on a terrorism charge Thursday after federal authorities alleged that he and at least three other men had gone on a buying spree of bomb-making chemicals and were preparing an attack on U.S. soil.
The one-count terrorism indictment against 24-year-old Najibullah Zazi alleges that he worked for more than a year on the plot to detonate a "weapon of mass destruction."
Justice Department documents did not specifically name other alleged co-conspirators, but it said three other Denver-area men had bought unusual amounts of chemicals from beauty supply stores, including hydrogen peroxide and acetone, that are used to make explosives.
Authorities are searching for at least a dozen individuals for questioning in what they describe as the first al-Qaida-linked plot on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
"Zazi remained committed to detonating an explosive device up until the date of his arrest" last Saturday evening, nine days after arriving in New York City, allegedly to meet with other members of the plot, according to a Justice Department document.
The document was part of a motion filed Thursday to keep Zazi detained in Colorado without bail. A federal judge agreed, setting the stage for his transfer to New York to face the terrorism charge.
While Zazi was ordered held, his father Mohammed Zazi and Ahmad Wais Afzali, a Queens imam and New York Police informant, were ordered released on bail. They were arrested along with Zazi on charges of lying to authorities in the intensive terrorism investigation.
"We will continue to work around the clock to ensure that anyone involved is brought to justice," said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in announcing the indictment. "We believe any imminent threat arising from this case has been disrupted, but as always, we remind the American public to be vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to law enforcement."
In the last two weeks, Zazi sought "urgent" help on making homemade bombs, according to the detention motion. On Sept. 6 and 7, he tried multiple times to communicate with another individual "seeking to correct mixtures of ingredients to make explosives."
"Each communication," the detention motion alleged, was "more urgent in tone than the last."
Prosecutors said Zazi had traveled overseas to receive bomb-making instructions and conducted extensive research on the Internet regarding components of explosive devices.
They said that on multiple occasions Zazi bought unusually large amounts of components to make TATP (Triacetone Triperoxide) and other explosives before arriving in New York City on Sept. 10.
TATP is the explosive used in the deadly 2005 London train bombings that killed 52 people and was intended for use in a 2005 plot to blow up a jetliner traveling from London to the United States and a 2001 plan by Briton Richard Reid to detonate a shoe bomb on a similar flight. Both schemes were linked to al-Qaida.
The government alleged that at least three still-unidentified men purchased suspicious quantities of hydrogen peroxide or acetone from beauty supply stores in the Denver area.
Zazi went twice to the Beauty Supply Warehouse in Aurora, Colo., to purchase highly concentrated hydrogen-peroxide-based products, said Karan Hoss, chief executive officer of the beauty supply chain.
Zazi bought 12 bottles of Clairoxide on July 25 and six bottles of Ms. K Liquid 40 Volume on Aug. 28, Hoss said.
Hoss said his employees did not realize the significance of the purchase until FBI agents visited earlier this month asking questions about anyone who'd made large purchases of hydrogen peroxide. He said they supplied tape and equipment from 48 cameras mounted throughout the store, and agents spotted Zazi.
"Forty-eight cameras in a beauty supply store is not common. I'm glad we invested the money and were able to provide the evidence, assuming this guy is guilty," Hoss said. "It gives me some comfort. ... Thank God for good technology and good camera systems."
Authorities also said that they found evidence that Zazi had heated the chemicals on the stove of an Aurora apartment he had rented Aug. 28. Authorities said in court documents that notes on bomb making were found on Zazi's laptop computer discussed heating the chemicals to make them more concentrated.
The documents noted that Zazi's fingerprints on the kind of small electronic scale and batteries often used in the making of homemade bombs.
In public statements, Zazi has denied being part of any terrorist plot. But the FBI alleges that he admitted under questioning to receiving explosives and weapons training by al-Qaida in the tribal areas of Pakistan that are considered to be the headquarters for the terror network headed by Osama bin Laden.
FBI agents in Colorado first arrested Zazi on Sept. 19, after prosecutors filed a criminal complaint charging him with knowingly and willfully making false statements to the FBI in a matter involving international and domestic terrorism.
The arrests came after the FBI raided numerous locations in New York and Colorado, looking for evidence of explosives and other suspects. Federal agents are still poring over evidence seized in those raids, including computers and cellphones.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security in recent days have sent out a flurry of alerts, warning authorities around the country to be on the lookout for such explosives, and any evidence of a possible attack on mass transit, sports arenas and entertainment complexes.
Times staff writers Susman reported from New York and Meyer from Washington.
Special correspondent Deedee Correll in Denver contributed to this report.