Denver-area beauty supply stores caught up in NY terror case
Associated Press Writers
AURORA, Colorado – The young man visited the Denver-area beauty supply store more than once in recent weeks, asking about chemicals for sale and engaging in small talk with employees.
He bought substances not unusual to a store like the Beauty Supply Warehouse, where clairoxide is sold to color hair and acetone to remove nail polish.
Now, investigators into a New York terror plot say the man employees say they saw – 24-year-old Najibullah Zazi – and others bought large quantities of the chemicals in July and August with plans to detonate homemade bombs on New York City commuter trains.
The allegation that Zazi was trying to stock up on bomb materials at beauty stores in this suburban city has rattled residents, who are surprised the products could have formed the basis for a bomb to attack the United States.
Michael Abeyta, 41, lives in an apartment complex near the Beauty Supply Warehouse, which is housed in an old skating rink several miles east of downtown Denver.
“That’s 50 feet from my home,” he said. “It’s just scary that they can buy that stuff here. Hydrogen peroxide can be used for a few things. I didn’t think bombs was one of them.”
Zazi, an immigrant from Afghanistan and permanent U.S. resident, appeared in a Denver courtroom on a count of lying to terrorism investigators. A hearing was set for Friday on the terrorism charge, which was brought in New York, where federal officials want to move his case. FBI agents have said Zazi told them he received explosives and weapons training from al-Qaida during a trip to Pakistan last year. Zazi, who was arrested Saturday in Denver, has denied any links to terrorism.
Zazi’s associates visited Colorado from New York to help him buy chemicals, using stolen credit cards to make the purchases, then returning to New York, a senior official familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing.
Operators of several stores in Aurora and New York confirmed they’d been visited by FBI agents asking whether large quantities of hydrogen peroxide, which is the main ingredient in clairoxide used to lighten hair, or acetone had been purchased.
At Beauty Supply Warehouse, Paul Phillips said a co-worker spoke to the FBI and told them he had sold chemicals to Zazi at the store. Employees referred further questions to a company spokeswoman in Torrance, Calif., who did not immediately return calls and e-mails.
Pauline Graham, a saleswoman at Sally Beauty Supply in Aurora, said the FBI interviewed everyone in her store about two weeks ago. She said they also showed her photos.
“I didn’t recognize any of the men, but I recognized one of the women,” Graham said. She said the woman bought “ethnic” beauty supplies but no peroxide, and that anyone buying large quantities would have attracted attention.
“If it’s a large quantity, I have to call my manager,” she said.
Hong Eom, 30, owner of Kay Lee Beauty Supply in Aurora, said he told an FBI agent last week that a woman recently bought a large quantity of clairoxide from him and that a man bought a lot of acetone on a different day. He said the customers appeared to be “American.”
Eom said the woman bought 10 16-ounce bottles of clairoxide. While most people buy only one or two, he didn’t think her purchase was strange because her hair was “blond blond.”
“I thought she needed a lot because she dyed her hair every week,” he said.
Eom said the man bought 10 8-ounce bottles of acetone and asked Eom if he had bigger bottles. He said he wasn’t suspicious because the man told him he worked at a beauty salon.
Eom said the agent showed him photos of people who appeared to be Middle Eastern, but he didn’t recognize them.
Meanwhile, Zazi’s father, 53-year-old Mohammed Zazi, also appeared in court Thursday. Mohammed Zazi was charged with lying to investigators about a phone call he had with an associate of his son’s in Queens, but has not been charged in a bomb plot.
Mohammed Zazi was released under court supervision pending an Oct. 9 hearing. He will be monitored electronically, and the judge ordered him to stay in his home except for work, medical care or religious services.
An eviction notice was posted this week at the Aurora apartment where the father, son and other relatives lived. Mohammed Zazi’s attorney, Edward Harris, told the judge that a new place has been found for his client to stay.
“Mr. Zazi is not a terrorist,” Harris said. “At worst, he is someone who lied to law enforcement.”
During Thursday’s hearing, a bus station across the street from the courthouse where Zazi appeared was briefly evacuated after an employee in the mailroom found a suspicious package. Police cleared the station and closed four city blocks to traffic.
The bus station reopened just over an hour later. There were no immediate reports of explosives or dangerous materials found.
Associated Press Writers Don Mitchell, Ivan Moreno, Steven K. Paulson and Kristen Wyatt contributed to this report.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.