U.S. officials moved swiftly Wednesday to safeguard against another terrorist attack - four days after a failed car bombing in New York City - but warned that more and different strikes might be planned to evade tighter security.
On Capitol Hill, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelley urged Congress to pass legislation to keep known terrorists from buying guns in the United States.
“This is a dangerous and serious breach of national security,” the mayor told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “It’s time to close the ‘terror gap’ in the gun laws … and take other steps to prevent terrorism.”
Mr. Bloomberg spoke as investigators learned more about Pakistani-born U.S. resident Faisal Shahzad, charged Tuesday with terror-related crimes in connection with the failed attempt Saturday evening to blow up an explosives-laden sport utility vehicle in New York City’s bustling Times Square.
“The car bomb … was not the only attempted terrorist attack on our city since Sept. 11,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “And sadly, it won’t be the last.”
Authorities said Mr. Shahzad in March bought the gun found Monday night inside his vehicle parked at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where he was apprehended just before his flight to Dubai was set to take off. He was not on a terrorist watch list until Monday.
Commissioner Kelley said too many guns remain available to international terrorist groups that are likely “plotting the next attack as we speak.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, objected to the legislation over concerns about the constitutionality of the watch list being used to ban people from buying guns.
He said the overwhelming majority of people on the list are Muslim men. He also pointed out that in 91 percent of the cases, people on the list who were allowed to buy guns have not been prosecuted for crimes.
“We’ve got a good system here,” Mr. Graham said. “We’re talking about Second Amendment rights. Taking away handguns doesn’t make me more safe. We’re going too far here.”
Within hours, Senate Democrats urged the Obama administration to flag airline passengers who pay for tickets in cash, as Mr. Shahzad did when buying a one-way ticket from Emirates airline.
“If Emirates airlines had been required to enter Faisal Shahzad’s name into a database when he attempted to pay cash … it would have been alerted to the fact that he was on the federal government’s no-fly list,” Sens. Charles E. Schumer of New York, Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland and Mark Udall of Colorado said in a joint statement. “Instead, the suspect nearly made a late-night escape.”
The Obama administration announced new rules Wednesday requiring airlines to check no-fly lists within two hours of receiving electronic updates. The airlines previously had 24 hours to check the lists.
Investigators are still trying to learn Mr. Shahzad’s motive and whether he worked alone or in connection with terrorist groups in his native Pakistan. There have been no officials statements about arrests in the U.S. or overseas directly connected to the incident.
Mr. Shahzad was said to be cooperating with authorities for a third day, but investigators said they remained uncertain whether they were dealing with a single angry man or a larger international plot.
U.S. officials say they have also not confirmed Mr. Shahzad’s claim that he learned bomb-making in Pakistan after he abruptly left the U.S. and his family in September.
Another question is how investigators allowed Mr. Shahzad - once a family man in suburban Connecticut with an education and good job - to elude them long enough to reach the airport that night after he was identified as the prime suspect in the Times Square incident.
A last-minute check of the flight manifest by federal customs agents allowed federal agents and New York City police officials to arrest Mr. Shahzad, 30, who was already aboard the plane.
“I was expecting you. Are you NYPD or FBI?” Mr. Shahzad told customs officials who came aboard the jet to arrest him, said an official with knowledge of the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.
FBI Deputy Director John S. Pistole said the agency at that time was looking at and gathering information on several people.
Among the details that emerged Wednesday: Mr. Shahzad’s landlord, Stanislaw Chomiak, revealed that he had received a call Saturday night from the suspect saying he had lost his apartment key and needed to be let into the building.
Authorities said Mr. Shahzad left his keys in the ignition of the smoldering SUV, which was discovered by a T-shirt vendor in Times Square.
Mr. Chomiak also said Mr. Shahzad told him he took a cab to his Bridgeport apartment from a train station and that the suspect lived alone and that he never saw him with anyone.
In addition, Mr. Shahzad was videotaped buying consumer-grade fireworks at a Pennsylvania store that a company official said were not nearly strong enough to make a powerful bomb.
Mr. Shahzad was supposed to make a court appearance Wednesday in a federal New York City court, but the appearance was delayed. Authorities said the suspect has admitted to his involvement in the attempted bombing and is cooperating.
c This article is based in part on wire service reports.