Najibullah Zazi, the airport shuttle driver from Aurora accused of plotting a terrorist bombing in New York, had contacts that “went nearly to the top” of the al-Qaida network—all the way to a confidant of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, according to unnamed “intelligence officials” cited by The Associated Press. An Egyptian, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, reportedly one of the founders of the terrorist network, used a middleman to reach out to Zazi for reasons officials cannot state, but they seem to indicate that al-Qaida’s leaders were intensely interested in Zazi, who is linked to what authorities call the most serious terrorist threat in the United States since the September 11, 2001, attacks. Charles S. Faddis, a retired CIA official, says al-Qaida may have simply wanted to encourage Zazi or perhaps was “attempting to determine to what extent he represented an opportunity to do something inside the United States.” Zazi’s defense attorney, Arthur Folsom, tells 9News Zazi never knowingly met with al-Qaida members.

“Zazi went to a mosque in Pakistan and may have come across al-Qaida members whom he didn’t know were members,” Folsom says. “I’m sure he’s talked to a number of people who may have a connection with al-Qaida, but I think it depends on your definition of meeting with someone.” NPR reports, however, that Zazi appeared to fit the profile of a perfect al-Qaida recruit: an Afghan immigrant who had lived in the United States for 10 years, had never been in trouble with the law, and was able to move freely around the country.