The Terrorists Among Us Why an al Qaeda attack on U.S. soil is still a real threat. BY PETER BERGEN | NOVEMBER 19, 2009 Part 1 Najibullah Zazi, a lanky Afghan-American man in his mid-twenties, walked into the Beauty Supply Warehouse in Aurora, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, on July 25, 2009, in a visit that was captured on a store video camera. Wearing a baseball cap and pushing a shopping cart down the aisles of the store, Zazi appeared to be just another suburban guy, though not too many suburban guys buy six bottles of Clairoxide hair bleach, as Zazi did on this shopping trip. He then returned to the same store a month later where he purchased another dozen bottles of Ms. K Liquid, also a peroxide-based hair bleach. Aware that these were hardly the typical purchases of a heavily bearded, dark-haired young man, Zazi -- who had lived in the States since the age of 14 -- kibitzed easily with the counter staff joking that he had to buy such large quantities of hair products because he "had a lot of girl friends." In fact, Zazi, a sometime coffee-cart operator on Wall Street, was planning to launch what could have been the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11, using the seemingly innocuous hair bleach to assemble hydrogen peroxide-based bombs, a signature of al Qaeda plots in the past several years. During early September, 2009, at the Homewood Studio Suites in Aurora, Zazi mixed and cooked batches of the noxious chemicals in the kitchenette of his motel room. On the night of Sept. 6, as Zazi labored over the stove, he made a number of frantic calls to someone whom he asked for advice on how to perfect the bombs. Two days later, Zazi was on his way to New York in a rented car. By then, U.S. President Barack Obama was receiving daily briefings about Zazi, sometimes as many as three or four a day. Zazi was spotted in downtown Manhattan on Wall Street on the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, just a few blocks from the gaping hole where the World Trade Center had once stood. By then he was under heavy FBI surveillance. Eight days later, after a series of voluntary discussions with Bureau agents, Zazi was arrested. Likely directed at various targets in and around Manhattan, America's leading authority on terrorism, Bruce Hoffman, described Zazi's plan as "Mumbai-on-the-Hudson." Zazi appears to have been the first genuine al Qaeda recruit discovered living in the United States in years. (Zazi had traveled to Pakistan in late August 2008, where by his own admission he was given training on explosives from al Qaeda members in the Pakistani tribal regions along the Afghan border.) On Zazi's laptop computer, the FBI discovered he had stored pages of handwritten notes about the manufacture and initiation of explosives and the components of various detonators and fusing systems, technical know-how he had picked up at one of al Qaeda's training facilities in the tribal regions sometime between the late summer of 2008 and January 2009, when he finally returned to the United States. The notations included references to TATP, the explosive used in the London 7/7 bombings. The Zazi case was a reminder of al Qaeda's ability to attract recruits living in the United States who are "clean skins": without previous criminal records or known terrorist associations and intimately familiar with the West. Similarly, Bryant Neal Vinas, a 20-something Hispanic-American convert to Islam from Queens, New York, traveled to Pakistan's tribal areas in the summer of 2008, where he attended al Qaeda training courses on explosives and handling weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades, lessons that he put to good use when he participated in a rocket attack on a U.S. base in Afghanistan in September, 2008. Vinas was captured in Pakistan the same month and was turned over to the FBI. He told his interrogators that he had provided al Qaeda members details about the Long Island Rail Road commuter train system, which the terror group had some kind of at least notional plan to attack.