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Afghan-born men in U.S. court in suspected bomb plot

DENVER (Reuters) - A Colorado airport shuttle driver at the center of a U.S. investigation into a suspected bombing plot was ordered on Monday to remain in custody, at least until a further hearing into the matter later this week.

Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year-old Afghan native who authorities say has admitted to taking bomb-making courses at an al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan, has been charged along with his father and a New York cleric with lying to the FBI.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Craig Shaffer told Zazi, who was arrested on Saturday with his father, 53-year-old Mohammed Wali Zazi, to return to court on Thursday for a bond hearing.

Shaffer granted the release of Mohammed Wali Zazi on $50,000 bond, but ordered him confined to his home and subjected to electronic monitoring by federal authorities.

Earlier, 37-year-old Ahmad Wais Afzali, a New York City-based imam, was ordered to remain in custody by a federal magistrate judge in Brooklyn.

Federal authorities have been investigating whether Zazi and others had been planning to bomb subway or train stations in New York, or whether there were other plots, federal law enforcement officials have said.

Officials said they have yet to identify for sure the potential targets or discover how close the suspects may have been to actually carrying out any plot. More arrests and additional charges could follow, the authorities have said.

“The government is still collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Neff said during a hearing in Denver for Zazi and his father.

BOMB-MAKING NOTES

The FBI says that during raids it found hand-written bomb-making notes on a document that had been scanned into a laptop computer seized from a rental car Zazi drove from Colorado to the New York City borough of Queens last week.

The searches were triggered by the travels of Zazi, who had been under surveillance and was monitored on his cross-country journey from Colorado to New York.

The Zazis and Afzali were questioned by the FBI following the raids, and the charges of lying resulted from those conversations. All three Afghan-born men, who face eight years in prison, have maintained their innocence.

Officials have described the investigation as fast-moving and far-ranging, an indication of how seriously they are taking the case.

The criminal investigation, involving the FBI and the New York Police Department, has extended overseas and has involved extensive monitoring and surveillance of the suspects, officials said.

Zazi, who appeared in court dressed in a yellow plaid shirt and jeans, spoke only in response to Shaffer’s questions, saying that he understood the charges against him.

A public defender assigned to represent the elder Zazi said he had trouble understanding the charges in English.

Afzali, his bald head uncovered in court, had a long beard and wore tan robes. He blew kisses to family members in the gallery as he was led out of court and back to jail.

Defense attorney Ron Kuby told the court he was working on a bail application, and prosecutors responded that they were uncertain whether they would oppose bail for the man who is well known in the Queens Muslim community and previously served as an informant for New York City police.

Afzali, who delivers sermons at New York City mosques and operates a funeral home, has cooperated with New York City police in the past, providing information about people of interest in terrorism investigations.

He is accused of lying to FBI agents, including about a call in which he tipped off Zazi that U.S. authorities had asked about him and that their calls were being monitored. Authorities questioned the imam on September 10 about Zazi and others, according to court documents filed by the FBI.

Additional reporting by Christine Kearney in New York, and Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Chris Wilson

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