NEW YORK – An imam accused of lying to FBI agents investigating an alleged bomb plot against New York City by a suspected al-Qaida associate pleaded not guilty Monday.
"I have nothing to hide," Ahmad Wais Afzali told reporters outside federal court in Brooklyn after his plea.
The 37-year-old Afzali was arrested in September as federal authorities tried to thwart the alleged plot by Najibullah Zazi, a Colorado airport van driver they say received explosives training from al-Qaida on a trip to Pakistan.
Authorities say Zazi conspired to use homemade bombs in a large-scale terror attack, possibly on the city's transit system. Court papers alleged that Zazi bought and tested bomb-making materials in a Denver suburb before traveling by car to New York, all while under FBI surveillance.
After federal authorities alerted the New York Police Department to the possible threat, detectives tried to gather information about Zazi from Afzali, who was an imam in the Queens neighborhood where Zazi once lived. The next day, Afzali called Zazi, telling him, "They asked about you guys," according to court papers.
Through the recorded conversation, the FBI discovered that Zazi "learned directly that the law enforcement officers were tracking his activities," federal prosecutors said in the court papers.
"Zazi ultimately purchased an airline ticket and returned to Denver on Sept. 12," the court papers said.
Over the next few days, heavily armed investigators staged a series of raids in Queens and arrested Zazi, his father and Afzali on initial charges they misled investigators. Prosecutors allege that the imam lied in a statement denying he had tipped off Zazi.
Afzali, who is free on bail, faces up to eight years in prison if convicted of four counts of making false statements. He was ordered to return to court Dec. 11.
Authorities have said the terrorism investigation is still active but haven't announced additional arrests. Zazi has denied any wrongdoing.