NY Bomb Suspect Charged Over Terror Plot
A Connecticut man held following a dramatic last-minute arrest aboard an international flight has admitted his role in attempting to explode a car bomb in Times Square, and told investigators he received bomb-making training in the militant strongholds of western Pakistan, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday.
The investigation into the failed car bombing in Times Square widened rapidly on two continents on Tuesday as Pakistani authorities arrested several people just hours after a jet bound for Dubai was called back from the runway at Kennedy Airport in New York City and boarded by federal officers, who seized the suspect, Faisal Shahzad.
Mr. Shahzad was arrested just before midnight Monday aboard an Emirates flight. He was charged in a five-count complaint with crimes including conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction in what Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. called a “terrorist plot aimed at murdering Americans.” Speaking at a news conference in Washington, Mr. Holder said Mr. Shahzad had been talking to investigators and had provided “useful information.” Officials had previously said that Mr. Shahzad had implicated himself in statements after he was pulled off the plane. At the same time, President Obama said federal investigators were looking into whether Mr. Shahzad had any ties to terrorist organizations.
Mr. Shahzad, 30, a naturalized United States citizen from Pakistan, had apparently driven to the airport in a white Isuzu Trooper that was found in a parking lot with a Kel-Tech 9-millimeter pistol, with a folding stock and a rifle barrel, along with several spare magazines of ammunition, an official said. He told the authorities that he had acted alone, but hours after he was arrested, security officials in Pakistan said they had arrested seven or eight people in connection with the bombing attempt.
Pakistani officials identified one of the detainees as Tauhid Ahmed and said he had been in touch with Mr. Shahzad through e-mail, and had met him either in the United States or in the Pakistani port city of Karachi.
Another man arrested, Muhammad Rehan, had spent time with Mr. Shahzad during a recent visit there, Pakistani officials said. Mr. Rehan was arrested in Karachi just after morning prayers at a mosque known for its links with the militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad.
Investigators said Mr. Rehan told them that he had rented a pickup truck and driven with Mr. Shahzad to the northwestern city of Peshawar, where they stayed from July 7 to July 22, 2009. The account could not be independently verified. Mr. Shahzad, who lives in Bridgeport, Conn., spent four months in Pakistan last year, the authorities said.
The criminal complaint charging Mr. Shahzad says that after his arrest he admitted attempting to detonate the bomb in Times Square and told investigators that he recently received bomb-making training in Waziristan.
The detailed 10-page document tracks his movements in the days before and after the failed car bomb attack, describing how he used a pre-paid cellular telephone to contact the seller of the car and arrange the purchase – and how the phone received four calls from a number in Pakistan hours before he made the purchase on April 24.
The complaint says that about an hour after the prepaid phone received the calls from the Pakistan number, he called the seller twice and later bought the Pathfinder.
The complaint also describes how investigators were able to get the Pathfinder’s vehicle identification number – pulling it from S.U.V.’s engine block -- even though it had been stripped from the dashboard before the S.U.V. was left in Times Square. Investigators were then able to track down the registered owner, who had passed the vehicle on to another person, who in turn had sold it to Mr. Shahzad.
Mr. Shahzad seemed more interested in the vehicle’s cargo compartment and seating area than its engine, even though the seller warned him that it had mechanical problems, according to the complaint, which said he never lifted the hood to look at the engine.
And he did not take the car for a test drive the first time he examined it, although he did so the second time, on April 24, before he bought it for the agreed on price of $1,300, paid in 13 $100 bills in a Bridgeport shopping center parking lot.
At that point, according to the complaint, when the seller sought to complete a bill of sale, Mr. Shahzad told the seller there was no need, explaining that he had his own license plate, which he displayed to the seller, who then gave him the keys and he drove the car away.
The complaint also indicates that the Pathfinders’ windows were not tinted when it was sold, but that it had tinted windows when it was parked in Times Square with the backseat and cargo compartment packed with gasoline, propane, fertilizer and fireworks.
Once agents had confirmed the Vehicle Identification Number, and through it locate the seller, they took the seller to a Connecticut state police artist, who created a likeness of the buyer, which helped investigators finally track him down.
Finally, they returned to the seller with a photo array, from which the seller selected a picture of Mr. Shahzad.
The prepaid cellular phone, according to the complaint, was also used to call a fireworks store in Pennsylvania that sells M-88 firecrackers like those that were used as part of the bomb. The phone was last used on April 28, according to the complaint.
It says that Customs and Border protection records show that Mr. Shahzad returned from Pakistan on Feb. 3, 2010, after a five month visit there, flying back on a one way ticket from Pakistan. He told investigators, the complaint said, that he was visiting his parents.
The complaint also said that investigators found three residential keys and one car key in the Pathfinder. One of the keys was to Mr. Shahzad’s house and one was to his personal car.
A search of his garage, the complaint said, found fertilizer and M-88 firecrackers.
Mr. Holder announced Mr. Shahzad’s arrest early Tuesday, saying he drove a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder found loaded with gasoline, propane, fireworks and fertilizer into the heart of Times Square on Saturday evening.
The suspect was already aboard Emirates Flight 202 when he was identified by the Department of Homeland Security’s United States Customs and Border Protection, according to a joint statement issued by the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York; the F.B.I.; and the New York Police Department.
Officials called the plane back, the airline said. All of the passengers were taken off, and they, their luggage and the Boeing 777 were screened before the flight was allowed to depart, about seven hours late, at 6:29 a.m. Two other men were also interviewed by authorities but released, according to one law enforcement official. It was not known when Mr. Shahzad bought his ticket.
The gun found in the car was described as a Kel-Tec automatic pistol with a folding stock and a rifle barrel, along with several spare magazines, said one official briefed on the matter. Investigators were initially concerned that the Isuzu S.U.V. in the airport parking lot was also rigged with a bomb, and the Port Authority police set up a perimeter until it was determined that the car contained no explosive device, the official said.
Mr. Shahzad bought the Pathfinder from a Connecticut woman within the last three weeks for $1,300, officials said, and it was that transaction that eventually led to his arrest on the airport tarmac.
The authorities found Mr. Shahzad using the e-mail address he had given the seller, a young woman. The two had met in a parking lot in Connecticut, and Mr. Shahzad gave the Pathfinder a test drive before negotiating the price down to $1,300 from $1,800. The owner told officials she’s advertised the S.U.V. on several websites, and that the sale was handled without any paper work.
An official in Pakistan’s Interior Ministry said Mr. Shahzad came to Pakistan in April 2009 and departed on Aug. 5 on an Emirates flight. At a news conference on Tuesday morning, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg called the attempted bombing “an act that was designed to kill innocent civilians and designed to strike fear into the hearts of Americans.”
The investigation was shifted on Monday to the control of the international terrorism branch of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, a multiagency group led by the Justice Department, according to two federal officials.
Pakistani officials, who have come under increasing American pressure to crack down on militants within their own borders, promised to aid the United States “in bringing such culprits to justice,” the Pakistani interior minister, Rehman Malik, said in a telephone interview.
An American official in Pakistan said Pakistan’s response would have serious implications for its strategic relationship with the United States, which has provided Pakistan with billions of dollars in counterterrorism funding since 2001. Mr. Shahzad is among a handful of Pakistani-Americans who have recently faced terrorism accusations in the United States or abroad.
In March, a Pakistani-American man, David C. Headley, pleaded guilty to helping plan the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. And last December, five young men from Virginia — two of them with Pakistani backgrounds — were arrested in Pakistan on accusations of plotting attacks against targets there and in Afghanistan.
At his news conference, Mr. Bloomberg warned against any backlash against Pakistanis or Muslims in New York, saying, “We will not tolerate any bias.”
President Obama was notified of the arrest at 12:05 a.m. by his counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, the sixth time he had been briefed on the case over the past day, said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary.
Early Tuesday, at Mr. Shahzad’s former home in Shelton, just outside Bridgeport, a neighbor said Mr. Shahzad and his wife, Huma Mian, spoke limited English and kept mostly to themselves, though others have since said that Mr. Shahzad spoke English very well. The couple have two young children, a girl and a boy, said the neighbor, Brenda Thurman.
Ms. Thurman said the couple had lived at the house at 119 Long Hill Avenue for about three years before moving out last year. Mr. Shahzad left around May, she said, and his wife followed about a month later.
Ms. Thurman said Mr. Shahzad got up early every morning and left to work nicely dressed, and had told her that he worked on Wall Street.
Mr. Shahzad’s last-minute arrest capped a fevered two-day manhunt in which investigators scoured footage from 82 city cameras mounted around Midtown and an untold number of business and tourist cameras, and raced to track the provenance of the Pathfinder.