(CCTV of raid, no audio)
A suspected Al Qaeda cell - the first uncovered in the U.S. since 9/11 - drew round-the-clock FBI surveillance Tuesday as authorities said they thwarted its plans for a major terror attack.
Scores of FBI agents inundated Denver as they closed the noose on the five-man cabal with ties to World Trade Center mastermind Osama Bin Laden's terrorist group, sources told the Daily News.
One of the suspects visited New York last week toting bomb-making plans after a trip to Pakistan - home to most of Al Qaeda's leadership, sources said.
The massive federal response was "an indication of just how serious a threat they see this as," said Frances Townsend, former counterterrorism adviser to ex-President George W. Bush.
Multiple sources told The News the FBI believes it has uncovered an Al Qaeda cell for the first time since 9/11, prompting the huge response.
"The FBI is seriously spooked about these guys," a former senior counterterrorism official told The News. "This is not some ... FBI informant-driven case. This is the real thing."
Najibullah Zazi, seen last week praying and chatting with other worshipers at the Masjid Hazrat-I-Abu Bakr Islamic Center in Queens, was one of the quintet under intense scrutiny, sources said.
He recently traveled to Pakistan, where Al Qaeda's major leaders - including Bin Laden - remain hunkered down.
Zazi - known around the mosque as "Naji" - ran a coffee and doughnut cart in Manhattan before moving to suburban Denver this year, other members of the center said Tuesday.
He was described as a religious man, sporting a long, bushy beard, who hailed from eastern Afghanistan.
Interviewed outside Denver, Zazi said he knows he is under investigation but is innocent.
Zazi apparently lived recently in the same Flushing neighborhood where FBI agents swarmed into three apartments this week, bashing down doors and carrying search warrants seeking bomb-making materials.
"I didn't know what he was up to," said mosque President Abdulrahman Jalili, 58, after he was contacted by the FBI about Zazi. "Islam is against terrorism. It is a religion of peace."
The operative was recently overseas visiting Pakistan and possibly other countries, police sources said.
He drove from Denver to Queens carrying documents and papers about bomb-making and bombs, the sources said. Zazi remained under constant surveillance in suburban Denver Tuesday, three sources said.
Red flags about an impending attack went up last week when Zazi visited with several people in a single day and there was worrisome information collected from wiretaps, sources said.
Zazi was stopped at the George Washington Bridge on his way into the city. Authorities later seized his rental car from a Queens street, sources said.
Two mosque members said Zazi was apolitical. "I haven't seen him talk politics," said Mohammad Aziz, 51, of Queens, who hosted a dinner for the suspect and a local imam two years ago.
Zazi, who has a wife in Pakistan, said he was coming to New York to renew his peddler's license for the coffee wagon.
The Queens apartment raids were triggered by the Denver investigation, the operative's New York visit and the timing of the upcoming UN General Assembly.
New York authorities also detained several men - later released - in a hunt for bomb-making components, explosive powders and fuses.
"The hallway was filled with guys with armor," said one man awakened when the FBI broke down a the door of a neighbor with ties to the mosque. "Heavy armor."
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said unspecified material was seized from the apartments and shipped for analysis.
BY James Gordon Meek In Washington and Simone Weichselbaum, Rocco Parascandola and Larry Mcshane
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
Updated Tuesday, September 15th 2009, 12:47 PM
* Bin Laden uses his annual 9/11 rant to mock Obama as a weak shadow of George W. Bush
* Siris: Rescue ourselves before next crisis
* Previous searches netted the bold & the bumbling
* Color-coded terror alert system not going away, just needs to be shorter, says panel
* Militants vow revenge against U.S. for killing of Al Qaeda big
With Judith Crosson in Denver and Joe Kemp
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ny_crime/2009/09/15/2009-09-15_queens_terror_raids_part_of_fbi_probe_into_denverbased_cell_plotting_attack_on_9.html#ixzz0RFG6Y0Hm