- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 5, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) — The man accused of trying to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square 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.

Bruce Zoldan, president of Ohio-based Phantom Fireworks, said Faisal Shahzad, 30, was captured on surveillance video buying fireworks from his company’s Matamoras, Pa., showroom within the past two months.

“The M-88 he used wouldn’t damage a watermelon,” Mr. Zoldan said. “Thank goodness he used that.”

Mr. Shahzad was charged Tuesday with trying to blow up a crude gasoline-and-propane device inside a parked SUV amid tourists and Broadway theatergoers. He was in custody after being hauled off a Dubai-bound plane Monday night at John F. Kennedy International Airport despite being under surveillance and placed on the federal no-fly list.

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Authorities said Mr. Shahzad has admitted his role in the botched bombing plot and is cooperating with investigators, who don’t yet know whether others were involved in the plan to blow up the SUV.

U.S. officials in Washington said Wednesday they’ve been unable to verify statements that Mr. Shahzad trained at a Pakistani terror camp, according to the complaint against him, and haven’t linked him to any terror group.

Meanwhile, an official with knowledge of the investigation told the Associated Press that the video police released right after the botched bombing of a man shedding his shirt near the SUV had the effect of falsely reassuring the real suspect he wasn’t a target.

The unidentified man — whom Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly referred to in his first briefing after the failed bombing as someone police sought to interview — is now not believed to be involved with the attack, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case. Police have not interviewed the man.

It wasn’t clear whether Mr. Shahzad would appear in federal court on Wednesday; a court hearing was canceled Tuesday in part because of Mr. Shahzad’s continuing cooperation with investigators, but authorities said they had shed little light on what might have motivated him.

Until recently, his life in the U.S. appeared enviable. He had a master’s degree from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, a job as a budget analyst for a marketing firm in Norwalk, Conn., two children and a well-educated wife who posted his smiling picture and lovingly called him “my everything” on a social networking website.

But shortly after becoming a U.S. citizen a year ago, he gave up his job, stopped paying his mortgage and told a real estate agent to let the bank take the house because he was returning to Pakistan.

Once there, according to investigators, he traveled to the lawless Waziristan region and learned to make bombs at a terrorist training camp.

In court papers, investigators said Mr. Shahzad returned to the United States on Feb. 3, moved into an apartment in a low-rent section of Bridgeport, and then set about acquiring materials and an SUV he bought with cash in late April. They said that after his arrest, Mr. Shahzad confessed to rigging the bomb and driving it into Times Square. He also acknowledged getting training in Pakistan, the filing said.

The investigation of the fizzled bomb attack unfolded quickly, with a suspect in custody in only 53 hours — but it didn’t go off without a hitch.

After identifying Mr. Shahzad through the previous owner of the SUV, investigators had him under surveillance when he nearly slipped away.

Authorities initially planned to arrest him at his Connecticut home but lost track of him, two people familiar with the probe told the AP. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk publicly about the breach in surveillance.

Commissioner Kelly played down the slip on the morning TV talk shows Wednesday, telling ABC’s “Good Morning America” that “it’s not unusual in an investigation” to briefly lose track of the target.

Emirates airlines also didn’t initially notice when Mr. Shahzad purchased a ticket that he had been placed on the government’s no-fly list, according to a law enforcement official. Emirates said in a statement Wednesday that it is in “full compliance” with U.S. passenger check-in procedures and works closely with the government to update security watch lists regularly.

The government now will require airlines to check updated no-fly lists within two hours of being notified of changes to the list, a Homeland Security official said Wednesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the change.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano credited customs officials with recognizing Mr. Shahzad’s name on a passenger manifest and stopping the flight. Agents apprehended him on the plane.

A gun was discovered in the car Mr. Shahzad left at the airport, investigators said. Commissioner Kelly told a Senate hearing Wednesday that Mr. Shahzad purchased the gun in Connecticut in March.

Kifyat Ali, a cousin of Mr. Shahzad’s father, spoke with reporters outside a two-story home the family owns in an upscale part of Peshawar, Pakistan. He said the family had yet to be officially informed of Mr. Shahzad’s arrest, which he called “a conspiracy so the (Americans) can bomb more Pashtuns,” a reference to a major ethnic group in Peshawar and the nearby tribal areas of Pakistan and southwest Afghanistan.

The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the Times Square car-bomb plot, but U.S. officials said they are still investigating. Federal authorities are looking into possible financing of Mr. Shahzad’s activities by the group, according to one of the law enforcement officials who spoke to the AP. A spokesman for Pakistan’s army said Wednesday that it does not believe the insurgent group was behind the attempt.

In Pakistan, authorities detained several people, although the FBI said it had no confirmation that those arrests were relevant to the case.

One of several people detained for questioning is a man named Mohammad Rehan, an activist related to an al-Qaeda-linked militant group picked up at a mosque in Karachi, Pakistan, a senior security official told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information. Mr. Shahzad is believed to have spent time in Karachi on his most recent trip to Pakistan last year.

Michael Rubinkam reported from Allentown, Pa. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers John Christoffersen in Bridgeport and Shelton, Conn.; Larry Margasak, Eileen Sullivan, Pete Yost, Matt Apuzzo and Julie Pace in Washington; Larry Neumeister, David Crary, Colleen Long, David B. Caruso and Sara Kugler in New York; Chris Brummitt in Islamabad, Pakistan; Adam Schreck in Dubai; Eric Tucker in Shelton; Dave Collins, Stephen Singer, Pat Eaton-Robb and Stephanie Reitz in Hartford, Conn.; and the AP News Research Center in New York.

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