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Flushing imam ordered held without bail in terror case

Terrorism suspect Najibullah Zazi is arrested by FBI

Terrorism suspect Najibullah Zazi is arrested by FBI agents in Aurora, Colo., late Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009. Photo Credit: AP Photo / Chris Schneider - Denver Post

A Flushing imam was ordered held without bail Monday as his defense attorney denied that the cleric had lied to the FBI in an ongoing terrorism investigation.

Brooklyn federal Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollak ordered that Ahmad Wais Afzali, 37, be kept in custody until a bail hearing Thursday so that prosecutors could further investigate his background and decide if they would oppose his release.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Berit Berger told Pollak the government considered Afzali a flight risk. However, defense attorney Ron Kuby said he was putting together a bail package that included a home owned by Afzali's father as security.

Afzali, a short, stout, full-bearded man dressed in a brown tunic and black Windbreaker, said very little during his brief court appearance. Afzali was arrested late Saturday in Queens on charges he lied to federal investigators in a probe of a potential terror plot involving the use of improvised explosive devices in the city.

Also arrested in Denver was Najibullah Zazi, 24, who had lived for a time in Flushing, and his father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, 53. Like Afzali, the Zazis were accused of lying to the FBI. The Los Angeles Times reported that the elder Zazi will remain in custody until arrangements are made for electronic monitoring in his Aurora, Colo., apartment. His son's bail status will be reviewed Thursday.

Outside the Brooklyn courthouse, Kuby said it made no sense that Afzali would lie to investigators about a conversation he knew was being wiretapped. The federal complaint stated that one of Afzali's conversations with Zazi was wiretapped and that Afzali stated that the conversation was being monitored.

"Why in the world would a man lie about a conversation he knew was being taped?" asked Kuby.

During a search, investigators found instructions on Najibullah Zazi's laptop for making and using explosives, according to court papers. Officials said the investigation is focusing on others in the United States and abroad.

In court Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Knox said the government intends to invoke the special foreign intelligence surveillance law to cloak some of the evidence in the case against Afzali with greater security. The law requires that certain foreign intelligence in court cases be handled with confidentiality.

Outside court, Kuby said that Afzali, who works in a Queens funeral home preparing the bodies of Muslims for burial, as well in his mosque, had been helping the NYPD and joint terrorist task force for years.

"People ask why don't Islamic clerics cooperate with police? Well, that is what he has done . . . in exchange for that, he is locked up in a jail cell," Kuby said.

Dan Sirakozsky, the NYPD detective from the terrorism task force who had contact with Afzali, might be called as a witness in any bail hearing, the attorney said.

Kuby took a shot at the FBI, saying the agency blew the cover of the investigation by contacting Najibullah Zazi, something an FBI spokesman wouldn't comment on.

Kuby also denied that Afzali made false statements to the FBI about Najibullah Zazi, noting that the alleged falsehoods weren't on tape but rather in a written statement Afzali provided. Afzali emigrated from Afghanistan with his parents to the United States in 1981 and has always lived in Queens, said Kuby. The attorney also noted that Afzali has made periodic visits to Saudi Arabia to perform the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims are required to undertake in their lifetime. Afzali has never traveled back to Afghanistan or Pakistan, said Kuby.

Afzali's father, wife and brother were in court but Kuby wouldn't identify them to protect their privacy.

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