Times Square Bombing Suspect Passed All Security Checks to Become U.S. Citizen

Tuesday, 04 May 2010 12:11 PM

 

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NEW YORK – A U.S. citizen who recently returned from a five-month trip to his native Pakistan was arrested at a New York airport on charges that he drove a bomb-laden SUV meant to cause a fireball in Times Square, federal authorities said.

Faisal Shahzad was on board a Dubai-bound flight at Kennedy Airport when FBI agents and New York Police Department detectives took him into custody late Monday, law enforcement officials said. He claimed to have acted alone, an official said.

U.S. authorities "will not rest until we have brought everyone responsible to justice," Attorney Eric Holder said early Tuesday, suggesting that additional suspects are being sought.

Shahzad, 30, is a naturalized U.S. citizen who has a wife in Pakistan, according to law enforcement officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

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

"He's claimed to have acted alone, but these are things that have to be investigated," the official said.

Shahzad was not known to the U.S. intelligence community before the failed bombing attempt, another law enforcement official said.

The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, which is handling the case, said Shahzad would appear in court Tuesday, but the charges were not made public. FBI agents searched the home at a known address for Shahzad in Bridgeport, Conn., early Tuesday, said agent Kimberly Mertz, who wouldn't answer questions about the search.

During the night, 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.

Shahzad was being held in New York overnight and couldn't be contacted. A phone number at a listed address for 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. On Tuesday morning, the home looked as if it had been unoccupied for a while, with grass growing in the driveway and bags of garbage scattered about.

Neighbors offered diverging descriptions of Shahzad but agreed that he kept to himself. One, Brenda Thurman, said Shahzad had told her husband he worked on Wall Street, while another neighbor, Audrey Sokol, said she thought he worked in nearby Norwalk.

Thurman, 37, said he lived in Shelton with his wife and two small children until last year.

"He was a little bit strange," she said. "He didn't like to come out during the day."

Sokol, a teacher who lives next door to Shahzad's old house, said he would wave and say hello and seemed normal to her.

Law enforcement officials say Shahzad paid cash when he bought the SUV, a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder, from a Connecticut man about three weeks ago. The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.

The vehicle identification number had been 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 he had sold the vehicle to a stranger. As the SUV buyer came into focus, investigators backed off other leads.

The SUV was parked on Saturday night on a busy midtown Manhattan street near a theater showing "The Lion King." The explosive device inside it had cheap-looking alarm clocks connected to a 16-ounce can filled with fireworks, which apparently were intended to detonate gas cans and set propane tanks afire in a chain reaction "to cause mayhem, to create casualties," police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

A metal rifle cabinet placed 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.

The SUV bomb could have produced "a significant fireball" and sprayed shrapnel with enough force to kill pedestrians and knock out windows, police said.

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 explosive device, and no one was hurt.

But Holder said Americans should remain vigilant.

"It's clear," he said, "that the intent behind this terrorist act was to kill Americans."

Authorities did not address 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 Shahzad by name or identify the other two passengers.

The aircraft and passengers were re-screened before taking off Tuesday morning, and the airline is "cooperating with the local authorities," Emirates said in a statement e-mailed to the AP.

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

More than a dozen people with American citizenship or residency, like Shahzad, have been accused in the past two years of supporting or carrying out terrorism attempts on U.S. soil, cases that illustrate 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.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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