- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 4, 2010

UPDATED:

NEW YORK (AP) — A Pakistani-born U.S. citizen was hauled off a plane about to fly to the Middle East and will face terrorism charges in the failed attempt to explode a bomb-laden SUV in the heart of New York’s Times Square, authorities said Tuesday. One official said he claimed to be acting alone.

Faisal Shahzad has admitted his role in the botched bombing attempt and is talking to investigators, providing them with valuable information, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said.

Mr. Shahzad was on board a Dubai-bound flight that was taxiing away from the gate at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport late Monday when the plane was stopped and FBI agents and New York Police Department detectives took him into custody, law enforcement officials said.

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Mr. Shahzad, scheduled to appear later Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan, will face terrorism and weapons of mass destruction charges, Mr. Holder said.

“Based on what we know so far, it is clear that this was a terrorist plot aimed at murdering Americans in one of the busiest places in our country,” he added.

In Pakistan, intelligence officials said at least one man has been detained in the southern city of Karachi in connection with the Times Square case: a man named Tauseef, who was a friend of Mr. Shahzad’s. The officials did not say when the man was picked up.

Another Pakistani official said several people had been taken into custody since the failed attack. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of their work.

President Obama said the FBI was investigating possible ties between Mr. Shahzad and terrorist groups.

Mr. Obama said “hundreds of lives” may have been saved Saturday night by the quick action of ordinary citizens and law enforcement authorities who saw the smoking SUV parked in Times Square.

“As Americans and as a nation, we will not be terrorized. We will not cower in fear. We will not be intimidated,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Shahzad, 30, recently returned from a five-month trip to Pakistan, where he had a wife, according to law enforcement officials who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation into the failed car bombing.

Mr. Shahzad became a naturalized U.S. citizen last year shortly before traveling to Pakistan, a federal law enforcement official in Washington said, speaking on condition of anonymity amid the ongoing investigation.

Investigators hadn’t established an immediate connection to the Pakistani Taliban, which has claimed responsibility for the botched bombing in three videos, or to any other foreign terrorist groups, a law enforcement official told the AP.

“He’s claimed to have acted alone, but these are things that have to be investigated,” the official said.

A Pakistani TV station reported that Mr. Shahzad spent time in Karachi and visited the northwestern city of Peshawar during his stay in Pakistan. Peshawar is a gateway for foreigners seeking to travel into nearby tribal regions, where militant groups have long had sanctuary.

In Washington, Pakistani Embassy spokesman Nadeem Haider Kiani said it’s too soon to tell what motivated the bomber. Asked whether there were ties to foreign terrorist groups, Mr. Kiani said early indications suggest the bomber was “a disturbed individual.”

Another law enforcement official said Mr. Shahzad was not known to the U.S. intelligence community before the failed bombing attempt, in which authorities found a crude bomb of gasoline, propane and fireworks in a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder parked on a bustling street in Times Square.

FBI agents searched the home at a known address for Mr. Shahzad in Bridgeport, Conn., early Tuesday, said agent Kimberly Mertz, who wouldn’t answer questions about the search.

Authorities removed filled plastic bags from the house in a mixed-race, working-class neighborhood of multifamily homes in Connecticut’s largest city. A bomb squad came and went without entering as local police and FBI agents gathered in the cordoned-off street. FBI agents appeared to have found fireworks in the driveway that they were marking off as evidence.

Mr. Shahzad was being held in New York and couldn’t be contacted. A phone number at a listed address for Mr. Shahzad in Shelton, Conn., wasn’t in service.

He used to live in a two-story, grayish-brown colonial with a sloping yard in a working-class neighborhood in Shelton. The home looked as if it had been unoccupied for a while, with grass growing in the driveway and bags of garbage lying about.

Mr. Shahzad graduated from the University of Bridgeport with a bachelor’s degree in computer applications and information systems in 2000 and later returned to earn a master of business administration degree in 2005, the school said.

A neighbor in Bridgeport described him as quiet.

“Nobody ever had a problem with him,” said Dawn Sampson, 34, who lives across the street from Mr. Shahzad’s third-floor apartment. She said he had remodeled it and had put it on the market to rent for $1,200, a fee she thought was much too high.

Law enforcement officials said Mr. Shahzad paid $1,300 in cash three weeks ago for the Pathfinder, going first for a test-drive in a mall and offering less than the $1,800 advertised price. Peggy Colas, 19, of Bridgeport sold the car to Mr. Shahzad after he answered an Internet ad, law enforcement officials said. The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.

The vehicle identification number was removed from the Pathfinder’s dashboard, but it was stamped on the engine, and investigators used it to find the owner of record, who told them a stranger had bought it. As the SUV buyer came into focus, investigators backed off other leads.

The SUV was parked near a theater where the musical “The Lion King” was being performed. The bomb inside the car had cheap-looking alarm clocks connected to a 16-ounce can filled with fireworks, which apparently were intended to detonate gas cans and set off propane tanks in a chain reaction “to cause mayhem, to create casualties,” police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

A metal rifle cabinet in the SUV’s cargo area was packed with fertilizer, but NYPD bomb experts believe it was not a type volatile enough to explode like the ammonium-nitrate-grade fertilizer used in previous terrorist bombings.

Police said the SUV bomb could have produced “a significant fireball” and sprayed shrapnel with enough force to kill pedestrians and knock out windows.

A vendor alerted a police officer to the parked SUV, which was smoking. Times Square, clogged with tourists on a warm evening, was shut down for 10 hours. A bomb squad dismantled the bomb, and no one was hurt.

Mr. Holder urged Americans to remain vigilant.

“It’s clear that the intent behind this terrorist act was to kill Americans,” he said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the arrest should not be as used as an excuse for anti-Muslim actions. “We will not tolerate any bias or backlash against Pakistani or Muslim New Yorkers,” he said.

Authorities did not address Mr. Shahzad’s plans in Dubai. The airport there is the Middle East’s busiest and is a major transit point for passengers traveling between the West and much of Asia, particularly India and Pakistan.

Dubai-based Emirates airline said three passengers were pulled from Flight EK202, which was delayed for about seven hours. The airline did not identify Mr. Shahzad by name or name the other two passengers.

The aircraft and passengers then were screened again before taking off Tuesday morning, and the airline is “cooperating with the local authorities,” Emirates said in a statement e-mailed to the AP. The other two passengers who were removed were allowed to get back on the flight, the airline said.

Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the AP that authorities had not been asked formally for help in the investigation but would cooperate if asked.

More than a dozen people with U.S. citizenship or residency, like Mr. Shahzad, have been accused in the past two years of supporting, attempting or carrying out attacks on U.S. soil, illustrating the threat of violent extremism from within the United States.

Among them are Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, a U.S.-born Army psychiatrist of Palestinian descent, charged with fatally shooting 13 people last year at Fort Hood, Texas; Najibullah Zazi, a Denver-area airport shuttle driver who pleaded guilty in February in a plot to bomb New York subways; and a Pennsylvania woman who authorities say became radicalized online as “Jihad Jane” and plotted to kill a Swedish artist whose work offended Muslims.

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Eileen Sullivan, Pete Yost, Matt Apuzzo and Julie Pace in Washington; Sara Kugler in New York; Chris Brummitt in Islamabad, Pakistan; Adam Schreck in Dubai; AP video journalist Ted Shaffrey and writer John Christoffersen in Bridgeport, Conn.; and AP photojournalist Doug Healey in Shelton, Conn.


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