NEW YORK — A Pakistani-born U.S. citizen was charged Tuesday with terrorism and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in the botched Times Square bombing. The government said he confessed to receiving explosives training in Pakistan.
Faisal Shahzad — the son of an air force officer in a wealthy Pakistani family — was arrested Monday night, pulled off a plane that was about to fly to the Middle East.
According to the complaint, Shahzad confessed to buying an SUV, rigging it with a homemade bomb and driving it Saturday night into Times Square, where he tried to detonate it.
In Pakistan, intelligence officials said several people had been detained in connection with the Times Square case. But a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press the FBI is not aware of any arrests in Pakistan related to the case.
Shahzad admitted to receiving bomb-making training in Waziristan, the lawless tribal region where the Pakistani Taliban operates with near impunity, but there is no mention of al-Qaida in the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court. The complaint said he returned from Pakistan in February, telling an immigration agent that he had been visiting his parents for five months and had left his wife behind.
“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,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in Washington.
Shahzad was on board a Dubai-bound flight that was taxiing away from the gate at Kennedy Airport late Monday when the plane was turned around and federal authorities took him into custody, law enforcement officials said. Federal officials had placed him on a “no-fly” list hours before his arrest.
Holder said Shahzad was talking to investigators, providing them with valuable information, The FBI read Shahzad his constitutional rights after he provided the information, and he continued to co-operate, FBI Deputy Director John Pistole said.
Shahzad’s court appearance Tuesday was delayed, in part because he was co-operating with authorities.
President Barack Obama said “hundreds of lives” may have been saved Saturday night by the quick action of ordinary citizens and law enforcement authorities who raised the alarm about the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder rigged with a crude bomb made of gasoline, propane and fireworks. The SUV, which had begun smoking, was parked on a bustling street 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,” Obama said.
Shahzad, 30, became a naturalized U.S. citizen last year shortly before travelling 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.
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.
“He’s claimed to have acted alone, but these are things that have to be investigated,” the official said.
Shahzad is the son of a former top Pakistani air force officer and deputy director general of the civil aviation authority, according to Kifyat Ali, the cousin of Faisal Shahzad’s father.
Ali told reporters outside a two-story home in an upmarket part of Peshawar, the main city in northwestern Pakistan, that the family had yet to be officially informed of Shahzad’s arrest in the United States.
“This is a conspiracy so the (Americans) can bomb more Pashtuns,” Ali said, referring to a major ethnic group in Peshawar and the nearby tribal areas of Pakistan and southwest Afghanistan. “He was never linked to any political or religious party here.”
He said Faisal often stayed in Peshawar when he came back from the United States.
His mother and father, retired Air Vice Marshall Baharul Haq, had left the house for an undisclosed location because of the media interest.
One man detained in Karachi was identified only as Tauseef and was a friend of Shahzad, according to one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Pakistani intelligence officers insist on anonymity as a matter of policy. Media reports described some of the others detained as relatives of Shahzad.
In Washington, Pakistani Embassy spokesman Nadeem Haider Kiani said early indications suggest the bomber was “a disturbed individual.”
Authorities removed filled plastic bags and a bomb squad came and went from a Bridgeport, Conn., house listed in Shahzad’s name Tuesday in a working-class neighbourhood of multifamily homes in Connecticut’s largest city. FBI agents found a box of consumer-grade firecrackers and other fireworks in the driveway that they were marking off as evidence.
Shahzad used to live in a two-story greyish-brown colonial with a sloping yard in a working-class neighbourhood in Shelton, Conn. The home looked as if it had been unoccupied for a while, with grass growing in the driveway and bags of garbage lying about.
He 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’s in business administration in 2005, the school said.
“Nobody ever had a problem with him,” said Dawn Sampson, 34, who lives across the street from Shahzad’s third-floor apartment. She said he had remodeled it and had put on the market to rent for US$1,200, a fee she thought was much too high.
Law enforcement officials say Shahzad paid $1,300 cash three weeks ago for the Pathfinder, going 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 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 complaint said Shahzad apparently tinted the windows of the Pathfinder after buying it, and took several cellphone calls from Pakistan before making a call to purchase the SUV.
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 a stranger bought it.
Another law enforcement official said Shahzad was not known to the U.S. intelligence community before the bombing attempt.
Shahzad was placed on a “no-fly” list Monday after he was identified as the SUV’s buyer, Pistole said. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declined to say how Shahzad was able to board the flight if he was on the “no-fly” list.
The SUV was parked near a theatre where the musical “The Lion King” was being performed. The bomb inside it had cheap-looking alarm clocks connected to a 16-ounce can filled with fireworks, which were apparently 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 incapable of exploding 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 smoking SUV parked on a street clogged with a pre-theatre crowd on a warm evening. Times Square was shut down for 10 hours and a bomb squad dismantled the device. No one was hurt.
“It’s clear that the intent behind this terrorist act was to kill Americans,” Holder 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 Shahzad’s plans in Dubai. The airport there is the Middle East’s busiest and is a major transit point for passengers travelling 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; two were later allowed to get back on board. The airline did not identify Shahzad by name or name the other two passengers.
More than a dozen people with U.S. citizenship or residency, like 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 U.S.
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, of Denver, 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; Larry Neumeister and Sara Kugler in New York, Chris Brummitt in Islamabad, Adam Schreck in Dubai, AP Video journalist Ted Shaffrey and writer John Christoffersen in Bridgeport, Conn.; and AP photojournalist Doug Healey in Shelton, Conn.