AURORA, Colo. – Federal agents on Wednesday searched the home of a suburban Denver man identified by law enforcement as having a possible link to al-Qaida, carting away several boxes of evidence.
FBI special agent Kathleen Wright confirmed that agents had a search warrant for the home of Najibullah Zazi. Residents of neighboring apartments were evacuated as a precaution, Wright said.
Zazi denies that he's a central figure in a terrorism investigation that fed fears of a possible bomb plot and led to several police raids in New York City on Monday.
It wasn't immediately known if Zazi was at home at the time of the raid. His attorney, Arthur Folsom, was not at his Denver office and couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
Agents left Zazi's apartment with at least six boxes. One was labeled "swabs," and others were marked "fragile" and "glass."
Agents also escorted three women and a man from the apartment. The man appeared to be in his early 20s and had a beard, but an AP reporter confirmed it was not Najibullah Zazi. Two of the women covered their faces with headscarves, and the third used a canvas chair to shield her face. All were driven away in an SUV.
One agent wearing protective clothing escorted a dog belonging to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives into Zazi's apartment. Other agents wearing FBI jackets stood outside along with Arapahoe County sheriff's deputies. The parking lot was enclosed by yellow police tape.
During the search, a school bus dropped off about 30 children, who walked past yellow police tape on their way home. Other residents of the complex watched from balconies and stairways.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver said it had no immediate comment.
The raid came a day after two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that a joint FBI-New York Police Department task force had put Zazi under surveillance because of suspected links to al-Qaida.
The task force also feared Zazi may be involved in a potential plot involving homemade hydrogen peroxide-based explosives like those cited in an intelligence warning issued Monday, said the officials, who spoke on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the investigation.
After Zazi traveled to New York City over the weekend, FBI agents and police officers armed with search warrants seeking bomb materials searched three apartments and questioned residents in a predominantly Asian neighborhood in Queens.
Naiz Khan, an Afghan immigrant who grew up with Zazi in New York City, said the FBI questioned him for about two hours about Zazi, whom he said stayed at his apartment last week.
No arrests were announced, and the FBI and NYPD have refused to discuss the case.
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and FBI Director Robert Mueller said Wednesday there are no specific terrorist threats to the city.
"There are no guarantees. We live in a dangerous world," said Kelly, who called New York the world's best-protected city. "But we are doing more than anyplace else, and we're going to continue to do that."
Monday's FBI and Homeland Security intelligence warning, issued to police departments nationwide, listed clues that could tip off police to peroxide-based bombs, such as people with burn marks on their hands, faces or arms; foul odors coming from a room or building; and large industrial fans or multiple window fans.
Colorado elected officials who said they've been briefed on the investigation have said there is no imminent threat.
Zazi, 24, had holed up in his Denver-area apartment earlier Wednesday, not wanting the media storm surrounding his case to cause trouble for his company, his boss said.
A man inside Zazi's apartment referred a reporter's questions to Zazi's lawyer. A phone number listed for Zazi rang unanswered Wednesday.
Zazi had told the AP Tuesday that he was worried about his future.
"This could look bad on me. It could damage my business," he said.
The building is very close to a toll road that runs to Denver International Airport, where Zazi picks up and drops off passengers as a driver for ABC Airport Shuttle. Zazi's airport shuttle van was parked outside the building.
ABC Airport Shuttle dispatcher Tony Gonzales said he spoke to Zazi after the media storm erupted and Zazi said he was staying home to avoid giving his company any trouble.
"We don't have any problem, he can always come back and work here," said Gonzales, 48.
"He's a hardworking guy. No trouble, no problem whatsoever. Very quiet guy," Gonzales said. "He's always on time. When we give him a pickup, he always does it."
Denver city records show that when Zazi applied for a limousine driver license on Feb. 3, he said he had a permanent residence green card and had been in Denver one month. The city redacted a previous address for him on his application, but Zazi wrote that he had lived at that address since 1999.
A limousine license was granted April 15, indicating Zazi passed a Colorado Bureau of Investigation background check and a driving record check.
On Tuesday, Folsom said Zazi contacted him immediately after hearing that friends' homes in New York had been raided.
The lawyer said Zazi drove to New York in a rented car to take care of a problem with the location of a coffee cart that he co-owns with a friend, and to visit friends.
Zazi said he was stopped by police on Sept. 10 on the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey to Manhattan, and that he consented to a random search of his vehicle for drugs. He was allowed to leave.
In New York, Folsom said, Zazi's car was towed because of a parking violation. Police searched both the car and a laptop inside, Folsom said.
"They found nothing, didn't ask him any more questions and sent him on his way," Folsom said. "If they had had found anything, he would be in the company of the federal officials in New York."
Zazi returned the car to an airport and flew home to Denver.
Zazi's aunt, Rabia Zazi, said that her nephew recently visited the Peshawar region of Pakistan — where she said his wife lives. Najibullah Zazi hopes to bring his wife to the United States, his aunt said.
She said Zazi was born in Pakistan but moved to the United States at an early age and grew up in Queens. He moved to Colorado several months ago to help his father with his shuttle business, she said.