NEW YORK – A relative of admitted terrorist Najibullah Zazi discovered a stash of homemade bomb-making materials two months before Zazi set out to attack New York City subways in 2009, but wasn't suspicious enough to report it, the relative testified on Tuesday at a federal trial in Brooklyn.
"What the hell is this?" Zazi's uncle, Naqib Jaji, said he asked his nephew. "What are you doing with this stuff?"
Jaji testified that Zazi lied and told him he was using the bleach, nail polish remover and other items stored in a garage to make a fertility potion.
A prosecutor asked if he believed it.
"Yes and no," the witness replied.
The uncle told jurors that when it became clear the FBI was investigating, he joined other frantic family members in trying to cover Zazi's tracks by getting rid of the material and lying to investigators about it. His testimony came on the second day of the trial of Zazi's father, 55-year-old Mohammed Wali Zazi, who's charged with obstruction of justice.
Najibullah Zazi has pleaded guilty, admitting that he traveled with two childhood friends to Pakistan to receive terror training from al-Qaida. He returned from Pakistan to his family's home in Colorado to cook up homemade bombs in a hotel room in suburban Denver before driving to New York City in September 2009 for what he described as a "martyrdom operation" that was foiled by the FBI.
Zazi's father claims he was in the dark about his son's intentions. But the government has sought to use the testimony of two key cooperators — his nephew and Jaji, who's married to his sister — to show the family was in a cover-up.
Jaji testified that Najibullah Zazi was living with Jaji in 2008 when he noticed a change in attitude: His nephew grew a beard, began attending services at a Queens mosque and "talked about religion all the time."
When Zazi announced he was going to Pakistan, he surmised it was "for jihad," he said.
"Before it was jihad against the Russia," he said. "This time it was against America."
After Zazi gave up the plan and fled back to Colorado with the FBI in hot pursuit, family members gathered at Jaji's house to get rid of any evidence of homemade bombs, he testified. The next day FBI agents arrived to search the home and came up empty, he said.
At Mohammed Wali Zazi's urging, Jaji said, the family agreed to lie in grand jury testimony about what they did and about their immigration history. He said he decided to plead guilty and testify for the government in hopes of avoiding a maximum 20-year prison term.