Documents filed in Brooklyn against the driver, Najibullah Zazi, contend he bought chemicals needed to build a bomb — hydrogen peroxide, acetone and hydrochloric acid — and in doing so, Mr. Zazi took a critical step made by few other terrorism suspects.
If government allegations are to be believed, Mr. Zazi, a legal immigrant from Afghanistan, had carefully prepared for a terrorist attack. He attended a Qaeda training camp in Pakistan, received training in explosives and stored in his laptop computer nine pages of instructions for making bombs from the same kind of chemicals he had bought.
While many important facts remain unknown, those allegations alone would distinguish Mr. Zazi from nearly all the other defendants in United States terrorism cases in recent years. More often than not the earlier suspects emerged as angry young men, inflamed by the rhetoric of Osama bin Laden or his associates. Some were serious in intent. More than a few seemed to be malcontents without the organization, technical skills and financing to be much of a threat. In some cases, the subjects appeared to be influenced by informants or undercover agents who pledged to provide the weapons or even do some of the planning.
In two cases unrelated to Mr. Zazi in which charges were announced on Thursday, in fact, the subjects dealt extensively with undercover agents.
The Zazi case “actually looks like the case the government kept claiming it had but never did,” said Karen J. Greenberg, executive director of the Center on Law and Security at New York University law school.
Neither does this plot involve a misfit acting alone, though authorities are not yet sure to what extent anyone else was involved in the conspiracy. So far the only other arrests are of Zazi's father and a Brookleyn Imam who warned Zazi he was under scrutiny, both of whom are charged with lying to authorities.