Around 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 1, a t-shirt vendor in New York saw smoke coming from a box inside a dark green vehicle on 45th Street near Seventh Avenue in the Times Square area. The vendor notified a police officer, who identified the smell of gunpowder coming from the unoccupied Nissan Pathfinder, left with its engine running and hazard lights flashing.
The suspect in the failed Times Square car bombing has admitted involvement in what authorities have now labeled “a terrorist plot,” Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday. (CNN) Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old Pakistani-American, was arrested around 11:45 p.m. ET Monday at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport moments before he was to fly to Pakistan via Dubai. Shahzad was on the plane and the door was closed, but the gate was still attached to the plane. The authorities walked onto the plane and took him off the plane, arresting him. “Full security procedures were activated, including the deplaning of all passengers and a thorough screening of the aircraft, passengers, and baggage,” Emirates Airlines said in a statement quoted by the AFP news agency.
Authorities focused on Shahzad when they traced evidence to him from the sale of the Nissan Pathfinder used in the failed attack – information considered the linchpin of the case. The Nissan Pathfinder had its vehicle identification number removed from the dashboard. Police climbed under the SUV and retrieved the VIN from the bottom of its engine block. This breakthrough led investigators to the vehicle’s registered owner and then on to Shahzad, who purchased the SUV, an official said. The Nissan Pathfinder was sold three weeks ago in a cash deal with no paperwork exchanged, a law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation said Monday. The $1,800 deal was closed at a Connecticut shopping mall, where the buyer handed over the money and drove off, the source said.
Cell phone calls conducted for the purchase of the vehicle helped lead police to the suspect, law enforcement sources said.
Sources said investigators got cell phone information from the daughter of the Nissan Pathfinder owner. She sold the vehicle to Shahzad on behalf of her father. She talked on the phone to Shahzad in organizing the purchase of the sport utility vehicle, which was advertised for sale on Craiglist.
Another law enforcement source said Shahzad claimed to have acted alone in the attempted bombing, but the Joint Terrorism Task Force has said it’s considering the possibility that the attempt involved more than just a “lone wolf.” (CNN)
While police continued to piece together information about Shahzad, they learned he traveled to Dubai before, most recently in June 2009 and returned to the United States in early February, a law enforcement official said. Shahzad became a U.S. citizen on April 17, 2009, which aided investigators in the case, the federal law enforcement source said. Because of his recent change in residency status, authorities had his picture and were able to show it to the seller of the vehicle, who identified Shahzad as the purchaser.
A woman who said she lived next door to Shahzad in Shelton, Connecticut, said there was some kind of police activity at his former residence Monday. Brenda Thurman said Tuesday that the man she knew was quiet and claimed to work on Wall Street. “He would wear all black and jog at night. He said he didn’t like the sunlight,” Thurman said. (CNN) She said that Shahzad, his wife, two children and his wife’s two sisters lived next to her for about three years, moving out in July 2009. Shahzad’s wife told Thurman then that the family was moving to Missouri. A few weeks afer they left, the bank foreclosed on the property and changed the locks, the neighbour said. Court documents reveal Shahzad purchased a house that entered foreclosure proceedings last year.
Documents from Connecticut’s Milford Superior Court show that Shahzad and Huma Mian purchased a home at 119 Long Hill Ave. in Shelton in July 2004. They took out a mortgage for $218,400 from Chase Manhattan Mortgage Corp. Last September, the mortgage company began foreclosure proceedings. As of December 14, Shahzad and Mian owned $207,837. “It is clear this was a terrorist plot,” Holder said. It could have caused “death and destruction in the heart of New York City.” (CNN)
The FBI said its agents and New York detectives then arrested Shahzad “for allegedly driving a car bomb into Time Square.” (CNN)
FBI Deputy Director John Pistole said that Shahzad was on the federal “no fly” list, which helped Customs and Border Protection agents to arrest him. “As a result of those communications, Shahzad has provided useful information to authorities. We anticipate charging him with an act of terrorism transcending national borders, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, use of a destructive device during the commission of another crime, as well as assorted explosives charges.” (CNN)
Hours after authorities arrested Shahzad, security forces in Pakistan seized two or three people in a raid connection with the failed Time Square bombing, a Pakistani intelligence source said. The Pakistan raid took place in a house in Karachi’s Nazimabad district where Shahzad was believed to have stayed during his visit to the country.
Shahzad is a naturalized U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent. Shahzad has a Karachi identification card, a sign of Pakistani residency, and his family is from violate northwestern Pakistan, where government forces have been fighting Taliban militants, who have strongholds in the area, according to Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
Meanwhile, investigators cranked up their probe Tuesday, finding a 9 mm handgun with ammunition in a white Isuzu that the suspect is believed to have driven to the airport, a federal law enforcement said. The source says 15 bags of “standard green fertilizer” were found in the trash outside Shahzad’s Shelton, Connecticut, apartment. Also found in the trash was flash powder.
Hours after the arrest, police were at a house in Bridgeport, Connecticut, working-class neighbourhood. Agents with the FBI and local police, including members of a bomb squad, conducted a search, and investigators removed plastic bags.
Investigators also were combing through Shahzad’s receipts, and roommates were being interviewed. Detectives also found a hand-drawn map in the attempted bombing probe, but it’s not clear where it was found, a federal law enforcement official said.
President Obama said Tuesday that “justice will be done” in the case and that U.S. officials “will do everything in our power to protect the American people.” (CNN) The failed bombing is “another sobering reminder of the times in which we live,” Obama told an audience of business leaders. But the United States “will be vigilant” and “will not cower in fear,” he said. (CNN)
During his trial, Shahzad admitted to having been trained in Waziristan, the location where Osama bin Ladan had been hiding for the past few years. But according to a source familiar with the investigation, the individuals didn’t have the expertise to detonate a parked Nissan Pathfinder containing propane tanks, fertilizer and gasoline. However, it is hard to determine whether Shahzad is actually telling the truth about where he was trained. This doesn’t mean specifically that he was with al-Qaeda or even the Taliban in Pakistan. Many other terrorists train in Waziristan with groups that are not attached to these two groups.
“As we move forward, we will focus on not just holding those responsible for it accountable, but also on obtaining any intelligence about terrorist organizations overseas,” Mr. Holder said. (New York Times)
Christian Science Monitor has reported recently reported that authorities have detained members of Shahzad’s family in Pakistan. The suspect recently spent five months in Peshawar, where there is a military training camp.