Najibullah Zazi is an Afghan-American citizen and former Al-Qaeda terrorist who plotted to bomb New York City Subway System in 2009. He was arrested in 2009 by the FBI and freed in 2019 with lifetime supervised release.
Najibullah Zazi was born on Saturday, 10 August 1985 (age 37 years; as of 2022) in the Paktia province of Afghanistan. His zodiac sign is Leo. His father moved to the US on 8 August 1990, while he remained in Afghanistan with his family. In 1992, he moved to Peshawar, Pakistan along with his family as Afghan refugees. In 1999, he moved to the Flushing neighbourhood in Queens, New York, USA, where he attended Flushing High School; however, he dropped out of school in his senior year to support his father in his work. He lived in a one-bedroom apartment with his family and worked as a cashier in the Norion Super Market grocery store and a restaurant before becoming a coffee and pastry vendor. From 2004 to 2009, he worked as a coffee and pastry cart vendor in New York, and his cart had a ‘God Bless America’ sign.
Height (approx.): 5′ 10″
Weight (approx.): 65 kg
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
Parents & Siblings
His father’s name is Mohammad Wali Zazi. He has 2 brothers and 2 sisters.
Wife & Children
He got married to his 19-year-old cousin in an arranged marriage in Peshawar, Pakistan in 2006. His wife and 2 daughters live in Pakistan.
He follows Islam.
Training in Al-Qaeda Camp in Pakistan
He started listening to radical Muslim clerics around 2005 and in 2008, he started watching videos of the mortar and suicide attacks by Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan. He leased his cart to another vendor and went to Peshawar, Pakistan in August 2008 with his school-time friends Zarein Ahmedzay and Adis Medunjanin. He intended to fight US Military in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban; however, he met Al-Qaeda operatives and went to the Al-Qaeda camp in the Waziristan region of Pakistan. In the Al-Qaeda training camp, he learned how to use AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, and make bombs from common ingredients like nail polish remover, hydrogen peroxide, butter, and flour. A senior leader, Saleh-Al-Somali, persuaded him and his friends to return to the US and carry out the suicide attacks. He made lengthy notes about explosives preparation and sent them over email to himself for future reference. He discussed potential targets in the US with Al-Qaeda operatives and gave money and computers to Al-Qaeda leaders before returning to the US on 15 January 2009.
Change in Behaviour and Bankruptcy
According to one person, Najibullah was religious yet he despised the acts of violence and condemned the 9-11 terrorist attacks; however, when Najibullah started reading and listening to the religious scripture in 2007, his behaviour changed which was noticed by everyone around him. His friends, neighbours, and customers observed that he is not as friendly as he was before. He grew a long beard, carried prayer beads, and wore tunics instead of his western-style outfits. He tried to sell a koran to one of his customers. He once had a spat with one of his customers when he argued that only money cannot make someone happy. He bought and used 7-8 credit cards from different companies from April 2008 to August 2008. After returning from Pakistan in January 2009, a representative of GreenPath Debt Solutions conducted a telephonic counselling session with him. He filed for bankruptcy in New York State on 26 March 2009, with $51,000 in debts, which was discharged on 17 August 2009.
Moving to Colorado and Arranging Ingredients
After returning from Pakistan in January 2009, he moved to Aurora, Colorado to live with his uncle and aunt. He took up a job as a driver in the company Big Sky. Later, he worked as a driver at ABC Airport Shuttle and drove a 15-person airport shuttle van between Downtown Denver and Denver International Airport. Around June 2009, he started to collect the ingredients to make a bomb. He conducted several internet searches to find Hydrochloric Acid. He bought large quantities of Hydrogen Peroxide and Acetone products from the beauty supply warehouses and stores. Once an employee of a warehouse enquired why he was purchasing such large quantities to which Najibullah replied that he had a lot of girlfriends. In July 2009, his parents also moved to Aurora, Colorado, and he started living with them. FBI operatives listened to his phone conversations for several months and kept an eye on him. In August 2009, the FBI heard one conversation in which he was discussing about mixing chemicals. He checked into an Aurora motel suite on 28 August and 6 and 7 September. When authorities checked the suite, they found traces of chemicals in the pipe vents of the suite.
Drive to New York and Return to Colorado
On 8 September 2009, he rented a car from Hertz Car Rental Company, and on the early morning of 9 September, he commenced on the 1800 miles (2900 km) journey from Colorado to New York by car with his laptop and the ingredients he had accumulated. FBI agents followed him, and on 9 September 2009, two New York City Police Department Intelligence Division detectives approached their informant, Ahmad Wais Afzali, a Muslim cleric, with photos of Najibullah and his friends. Afzali identified 3 photos including Najibullah’s photo and provided information about them to the detectives. Najibullah arrived in New York on 10 September 2009 and stayed at the house of his childhood friend Naiz Khan in Flushing, Queens. He planned to bomb New York Subway trains. Najibullah made a plan with his friends to conduct coordinated suicide bombings using backpacks near the Grand Central and the Times Square stations in Manhattan during rush hour. He also conducted a recce of the Subway stations to identify places to detonate the bombs. FBI requested Port Authority Police to search Najibullah’s car, and when he boarded the George Washington Bridge, his car was stopped on the pretext of a routine drug check. His car was searched; however, nothing suspicious was found, and he was allowed to go. On 11 September 2009, he received a call from his father who informed him about the authorities searching for him and told him to speak with Ahmad Wais Afzali. Apparently, Ahmad Wais Afzali had called up Najibullah’s father after the authorities left and informed him about the ongoing search for Najibullah. Later, on the same day, Najibullah’s car was towed away by the Police for a parking violation. Najibullah called Ahmad Wais Afzali and said that he was being watched, and his car had been stolen by the people watching him. Ahmad asked him if there was any evidence in the car, which Najibullah denied. FBI agents searched his car, and in his laptop, they found images of 9 handwritten pages on making and detonating explosives, which they claimed were in Najibullah’s handwriting. Najibullah and his group threw away the bomb-making materials upon realising that they were under investigation. On 12 September 2009, he flew back to Denver, Colorado.
Evidence and Arrest
On 14 September 2009, FBI agents raided the house in New York, where he stayed, and found his fingerprints on a scale, several AA batteries, and dozen black backpacks. They also issued an alert for Hydrogen Peroxide based bombs. Najibullah voluntarily appeared with his lawyer on 16 September, and he was questioned by the Joint Terrorism Task Force at the FBI offices in Denver. In his 8-hour-long interrogation, he denied having any information about the pages found on his laptop and claimed that he might have downloaded it accidentally. When asked by the press reporters about his trip to New York, he told them that he had gone to clear issues regarding his coffee cart. He accepted receiving the weapons and explosive training in Pakistan in his interrogations done by FBI agents on 17 and 18 September 2009. On 19 September 2009, he was arrested, and on 21 September 2009, he was charged with making false statements in a matter involving terrorism in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. On 23 September 2009, previous charges were dropped and new charges were filed against Najibullah in the Eastern District of New York. In February 2010, he pleaded guilty to the charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against persons or property in the United States, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, and providing material support to a terrorist organization. He was held as a federal inmate at the Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn. He was initially scheduled to be sentenced on 25 June 2010; however, he was moved to a secret location in April 2010.
Cooperating with Agencies and Conviction of Family Members and Friends
Najibullah cooperated with agencies after agents threatened him with charging his parents with immigration fraud. He provided vital information about his associates, which led to their arrests and further conviction. On 19 September 2009, FBI agents arrested his father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, for destroying evidence and lying to the investigators. On 10 February 2012, Mohammed Wali Zazi was sentenced to four years in prison, and on 30 November 2018, his American citizenship was canceled, and he was deported back to Afghanistan on 4 February 2022. On 7 January 2010, his friend Adis Medunjanin was arrested by the Police. When the Police were searching his house, he attempted to flee in his car before crashing it with another car. Najibullah wept while standing on the witness stand during the trial against Adis Medunjanin. On 16 November 2012, Adis was sentenced to life imprisonment. He testified against his associate Zarein Ahmedzay, who was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on 14 December 2018. FBI agents also arrested their informant Ahmad Wais Afzali on charges of lying to them about Najibullah. He entered into a plea agreement with the authorities and left the US in July 2010. In 2017, he testified against another Al-Qaida terrorist Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh about providing training to Muhanad in the Al-Qaeda camp in 2007.
Final Verdict and Release
On 2 May 2019, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment alongside lifetime supervised release by a Federal court, which included the time he had already served. Since he had already served a long time behind bars, he was released after a few days.
- In his bankruptcy plea, he declared himself unmarried.
- He used to watch Indian Preacher Zakir Naik’s videos on YouTube during his youth years and considered him his inspiration.
- He met Bryant Neal Vinas, an American citizen, at the Al-Qaeda training camp in Waziristan, Pakistan. Bryant was also recruited by Al-Qaeda and underwent training with Najibullah.
- His family name is shared with a tribe in the Paktia province of Afghanistan.
- His nickname is Salahuddin.
- He was a gadget freak in his youth. He often carried his basketball and praying mat to the store when he worked as a cashier.
- When he was in jail, he attained his General Equivalency Diploma (GED) and 16 certificates in various courses offered by the Bureau of Prisons.
- FBI was tipped off about Najibullah by Scotland Yard. Scotland Yard officials intercepted an email under ‘Operation Pathway’, which was sent by an Al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan to Najibullah.
- It was later revealed in 2009 that he planned to conduct bombings similar to the 2005 London bombings.
- He befriended Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, a medical assistant over the internet, who was arrested in March 2010 on charges of spreading terrorism.