Car bomb suspect says he trained in Pakistan
Federal authorities yesterday charged a Pakistani-American man with terrorism-related crimes in the failed plot last weekend to detonate a car bomb in Times Square. The man spoke freely to investigators, officials said, admitting his role in the attempted attack and saying he had received explosives training in Waziristan, a lawless border region of Pakistan.
The arrest of the man, Faisal Shahzad, 30, as he tried to flee the country in a Dubai-bound jet late Monday was followed within hours by reports of arrests in Pakistan of seven or eight people, and occurred as officials in the United States and Pakistan sought to determine the origins and scope of the plot.
American intelligence officials said that while Shahzad’s ties to international terrorist groups re mained murky, evidence was mounting that the Pakistani Taliban played a role in the attempted attack on Saturday. If that is the case, it would be the group’s first effort to attack the United States and the first sign of the group’s ability to strike targets beyond Pakistan or Afghanistan.
The Pakistani Taliban, whose largest group is known as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, are different from the Taliban groups the United States is battling in Afghanistan.
Shahzad’s ability to board a flight at Kennedy International Airport despite being the target of a major terrorism investigation was the result of at least two lapses in the response by the government and Emirates airline.
Shahzad, a naturalized United States citizen from Pakistan who lived in Bridgeport, Conn., was charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and other federal charges, several related to explosives. He was interrogated without initially being read his Miranda rights under a public safety exception, and he provided what the Federal Bureau of Investigation called “valuable intelligence and evidence.’’
He continued talking after being read his rights, the FBI said. Authorities charged him as a civilian yesterday, but he did not appear in court and no hearing has been scheduled.
“It is clear that this was a terrorist plot aimed at murdering Americans in one of the busiest places in the country,’’ Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at a news conference yesterday in Washington.
Shahzad had booked a ticket on his way to the airport and bought it with cash when he got there, officials said. He had boarded the plane but was taken off before it taxied away.
Officials said Shahzad had been placed on a no-fly list Monday afternoon, but they declined to explain how he had been allowed to board the plane.
A white Isuzu Trooper that Shahzad had apparently driven to Kennedy International Airport was found in a parking lot. Inside the Trooper, investigators discovered a Kel-Tec 9mm pistol, with a folding stock and a rifle barrel, along with several spare magazines of ammunition, an official said. Fearing the Isuzu might be rigged to explode, officials briefly cordoned off the area around it.
All of the passengers were taken off the plane, and they, their luggage, and the
Holder said Shahzad had been providing useful information to federal investigators since he was pulled off the plane. Besides saying he had received training in Pakistan, Shahzad told authorities he had acted alone, a claim that was still being investigated.
In Pakistan, developments unfolded quickly. Officials identified one of those arrested as Tauhid Ahmed and said he had been in touch with 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 Shahzad during a recent visit there, Pakistani officials said. Rehan was arrested in Karachi at a mosque known for its links with the militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad.
Investigators said Rehan told them that he had rented a pickup truck and driven with Shahzad to the northwestern city of Peshawar, where they stayed from July 7 to July 22, 2009. The account could not be independently verified. Shahzad spent at least four months in Pakistan last year, the authorities said.
Pakistani officials promised to aid the United States “in bringing such culprits to justice,’’ the Pakistani interior minister, Rehman Malik, said in a telephone interview as he announced the seven or eight arrests.
Shahzad is believed to be originally from Kashmir and is among a handful of Pakistani-Americans who have recently faced terrorism accusations in the United States or abroad.
The Pakistani Taliban on Sunday released a video taking credit for the Times Square attack, but American officials cautioned yesterday that it could take days before enough evidence emerged to point to any one group for its role in the plot.
For months, terrorist groups have pledged revenge for the CIA’s campaign of drone strikes in the Pakistani mountains. Last year, a CIA drone killed the group’s leader, Baitullah Mehsud, and American intelligence officials believe the Pakistani Taliban have over the years cultivated close ties to Al Qaeda leaders.
Jack Healy of the Times staff contributed to this story