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Obama visits NYC to praise FBI for terror probe

President Barack Obama speaks to staff members after

President Barack Obama speaks to staff members after touring the Joint Terrorism Task Force headquarters in Manhattan. (Oct. 20, 2009). Credit: AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama gave the FBI agents working on the latest terror case a public pat on the back Tuesday in Manhattan.

Obama toured the center and addressed employees Tuesday at the start of a fundraising trip to New York City. The task force, which is led by the Justice Department and the FBI, coordinates the actions of federal, state and local police.

Obama said, because of the efforts and the sacrifices made by task force members, the U.S. is making “real progress” in disrupting the terrorists who are intent on attacking the U.S.

Obama commended the New York FBI office for its work in the investigation, which has led to the arrest and indictment of Najibullah Zazi, 24, on charges he plotted to kill Americans with homemade bombs. Officials believe New York City was the likely target.

The FBI is probing at least three other possible suspects who allegedly bought chemicals to make the explosives.

Monday, Ahmad Afzali, 37, an imam from Flushing who was arrested last month on charges he lied to federal agents and police in the investigation, was indicted on the same charge, defense attorney Ron Kuby said.

"A tired rehash of the same tired stuff," Kuby said. "President Obama is coming to town so I guess they wanted to give him a gift."

Officials insist Afzali lied about whether he told anyone police were asking questions about Zazi and others. He remains free on $1.5-million bond. Zazi's father was also indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver for allegedly lying to investigators and is free on bond.

The terror probe is a major priority of a joint city-federal terror task force. Despite some reports of friction between the NYPD and the FBI, primarily over the police officers' handling of informant Afzali, police and agency officials have denied there were problems.

However, a balky federal communication system last month apparently did briefly delay the FBI getting a warrant to arrest Afzali, according to recently released court documents.

The glitch occurred while Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell and FBI agent Farbod Azad where trying late Saturday night, Sept. 19, to call federal Magistrate-Judge E. Thomas Boyle, who sits in Central Islip.

"Your honor, I think we are on," said Campbell to Boyle. "We got our system to work."

"It wasn't easy either," said Boyle later, according to a transcript of the call. "What could go wrong did go wrong."

Campbell, Azad, and three federal prosecutors in Brooklyn had called Boyle to get him to sign an arrest warrant for Afzali, who police often contacted for information about the Muslim community.

According to the transcript of Campbell's call filed with the federal court last week, Boyle only had a couple of questions about the warrant application before he finally signed it.

Boyle wanted to know what the term "masjid" meant in the application, to which Azad said it was synonymous with a mosque. Azad, who prepared the warrant, also told Boyle that he wasn't sure if Afzali was an accredited clergy.

Boyle finally signed the warrant at 12:11 a.m. on Sept. 20, the transcript showed. About 15 minutes later, Afzali was arrested, Kuby told Newsday.

Afzali has denied the allegations.

With information from the Associated Press.

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