In many ways, Flushing must have seemed like another planet to a teenager raised in tribal villages. But several of the family’s neighbors came from the same region, and many prayed together at the Masjid Hazrat Abu Bakr, a large Afghan mosque, which was near their house.
Najib entered Flushing High School, and played billiards with friends and basketball with other Afghan boys in the yard at Public School 214. He loved video games and all things technological, and that grew into a fascination with cellphones and computers, said a friend, Ahmad Zaraei. He played the lottery.
Najib was not a strong student, and he dropped out before graduating, friends said. Mr. Rasooli, the elder Mr. Zazi’s step-uncle, said it bluntly: “He was a dumb kid, believe me,” but one who was dedicated to making money and helping his father.
Mr. Zaraei said, “He was basically a left shoulder for his father.”
The younger Mr. Zazi also spent a lot of time at the mosque, even volunteering his time as a janitor there. He turned 16 a month and a day before Sept. 11, 2001. One acquaintance who gave only his first name, Rahul, recalled discussing the attacks three years later and Mr. Zazi saying: “I don’t know how people could do things like this. I’d never do anything like that.”
Life at the mosque was disrupted after the attacks. Worshipers there, a large white structure with a turquoise minaret on 33rd Avenue, became deeply divided. When the imam, Mohammed Sherzad, spoke out against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, pro-Taliban members of the mosque revolted, praying in the basement or the parking lot, and eventually ousted the imam, who opened a smaller mosque nearby.
It is unclear where, in this heated time, the Zazis fell, though the imam said in an interview that he saw several members of the Zazi family, including Najib, praying in the parking lot with those who opposed him.