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By Edith Honan
NEW YORK, Sept 29 (Reuters) - An Afghan-born man at the center of a U.S. anti-terrorism probe pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to plotting a bombing attack in the United States, and a federal judge ordered him held without bail.
An attorney for Najibullah Zazi, indicted by a grand jury on a charge of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, cautioned against prejudging the case against the 24-year-old Colorado airport shuttle driver who is a legal U.S. resident.
"I’d like to stop this rush to judgment because what I have seen so far does not amount to a conspiracy," defense attorney J. Michael Dowling told reporters outside the Brooklyn courthouse.
Prosecutors allege Zazi took a bomb-making course at an al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan, had bomb-making notes on his laptop, and acquired bomb-making materials similar to those used in the 2005 London attacks, buying acetone and hydrogen peroxide at beauty supply stores.
"It is not against the law to buy the materials," Dowling said.
Law enforcement experts have called the conspiracy, if proven, one of the most significant security threats in the United States since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"The conspiracy here is international in scope," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Knox, the lead prosecutor in the case.
He said there was "voluminous" evidence, including some obtained through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that will not be presented in open court and only shown in a "secure room."
The issue of al Qaeda training in Afghanistan and Pakistan is central to a debate about whether U.S. President Barack Obama should send more U.S. troops to the war in Afghanistan, which the United States invaded in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks. [ID:nISL427860]
Vice President Joe Biden has proposed a shift in the U.S. mission to concentrate on attacking al Qaeda targets that are primarily in Pakistan, using Predator drone missiles and other tactics. [ID:nN28107264]
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has had under surveillance other suspects it believes may have helped Zazi acquire the chemicals and consulted with him on how to make explosives.
Zazi faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted. He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in media interviews and through his lawyers.
Zazi, who did not speak during the court appearance, was dressed in an orange T-shirt beneath a navy blue prison uniform. He did not request bail, which the judge ruled out anyway in ordering him to remain behind bars.
"There are no combination of conditions that will reasonably ensure this person’s appearance (in court if released on bail) ... or the safety of the community," U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie said.
Zazi was arrested earlier this month and was initially charged in Colorado with lying to federal investigators. He was later indicted on terrorism charges in Brooklyn federal court and transferred to New York on Sept. 25 to face those charges.
The investigation became publicly known about earlier this month when police raided apartments in the New York City borough of Queens that Zazi had visited.
Zazi drove across the country from Colorado, arriving in New York City on Sept. 10 in a rental car in which authorities say he carried the laptop with detailed bomb-making notes.
The suspect’s father, Mohammed Zazi, and a New York imam, Ahmad Afzali, accused of having tipped off the younger Zazi that he was under scrutiny, also were arrested on charges making false statements.
They were released last week but ordered placed under electronic monitoring. (Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Daniel Trotta and David Storey)