WASHINGTON — President Obama is touting the case of an al-Qaida-linked Afghan immigrant who allegedly plotted an attack in New York as proof the U.S. intelligence community is making progress in the struggle to defeat the terrorist group.
According to officials, Najibullah Zazi, the 24-year-old Afghan immigrant under investigation, had ties to a senior al-Qaida leader and attracted the attention of the CIA through one of its sources. The CIA then alerted domestic agencies, including the FBI, according to intelligence officials familiar with the investigation.
Speaking Tuesday to employees at the National Counterterrorism Center, Obama said their service was evident in attacks that were never carried out.
"We've seen your success here in America in the last several weeks," he said while visiting the facility outside Washington. "You've stayed vigilant. You watched for signs. You stitched together the intelligence. You worked together, across organizations, as one team."
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That work, Obama said, has made America safer.
Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday the alleged terrorist plot disrupted in New York was "one of the most serious in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001."
Prosecutors claim Zazi, who allegedly received terrorism training at an al-Qaida camp in Pakistan, was planning to strike another New York City target on 9/11, this time with homemade bombs.
U.S. intelligence organizations first became aware of Zazi in late August, a senior administration official said. The intelligence and administration officials declined to offer more details on the operative and spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
The fact that intelligence officials learned of Zazi through a CIA source sheds more light on the government's claim that the charges against him are part of a broader, international case and begins to explain why the investigation triggered such a large offensive from the nation's intelligence community.