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Authorities search Boston area home, gas station in NYC bomb case

Posted by Leslie Anderson  May 13, 2010 11:10 AM

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Ed Medina/Globe Staff

This Watertown house was cordoned off this morning.

Federal agents searched a home in Watertown and a gas station in Brookline and arrested two people today in connection with the investigation of the attempted bombing in Times Square earlier this month, authorities said.

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FBI spokeswoman Gail Marcinkiewicz said search warrants had been executed at "several locations in the Northeast," including a home on Waverley Avenue in Watertown. A second search warrant was also executed at a gas station in Brookline, state officials said.

State officials sought to reassure the public at an afternoon news conference that there was no reason to fear. There is "no immediate threat to persons or property," Governor Deval Patrick said.

The Associated Press reported that there were also raids this morning in New York and New Jersey and that two of three people arrested had "a direct connection" to Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistan-born man accused of trying to ignite a bomb in New York on May 1.

A top Massachusetts law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, told the wire service that the two are believed to have provided money to Shahzad, but investigators weren't sure if they were witting accomplices or simply moving funds for him.

The two people taken into custody in Massachusetts faced alleged immigration violations, Marcinkiewicz said.

Christina DiIorio Sterling, a spokeswoman for the US Attorney's office in Boston, said the two were arrested on administrative charges -- not criminal charges -- and therefore will not be appearing in federal court.

US Attorney General Eric Holder, testifying before a congressional committee today, confirmed that "several people" had been taken into custody.

Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman in Washington, said a total of three people were taken into custody. It was not clear where the third person was arrested.

Brookline Police said they had assisted the FBI in an operation at a gas station at 198 Harvard St. Police Chief Daniel O'Leary told reporters at the scene, "Brookline remains a very safe place. This is not targeting Brookline."

Still, the service-station raid rattled the neighborhood.

Laurisa Sellers, 59, who lives in the area, was walking down Harvard Street to meet a friend when she saw the police and FBI activity.

"Of course nobody wants to live close to these things," Seller said about the possibility of a connection to the New York bomb plot. "In this day and age, we all have to be very careful. ... But you can't live in an urban area and live in fear.''

FBI and ICE agents were on the scene and some could be seen scrutinizing the service bays of the gas station this morning, as well as cars parked outside. They hauled away a number of items in boxes.

Baij Joshi, the son of the owner of 39 Waverley Ave. in Watertown, where the second raid was held, said the tenants on the first floor were several Pakistani men, who had lived there "more than two to three years." He said some had spoken recently of taking trips to Pakistan.

"They seemed to be very good people. They paid the rent on time," he said.

"The impression that I got is they're working people, making their daily livelihood by driving a taxi and working in a store," he said.

He said they typically paid their $1,100 monthly rent by check, but last month one of the men said he had forgotten his checkbook and paid him in cash. One of the men recently had told him he was taking a two-to-three-month trip to Pakistan, he said, adding that he wondered at the time how the man had gotten so much time off from work.

He said the men were always respectful but sometimes parked too many cars in the driveway. A tenant on the second floor had also complained about smoking in the house, Joshi said.

Vincent Lacerra, who lives across the street from the Waverley Avenue home, said he was watching TV at about 6 a.m. when he heard a commotion outside and the words, "FBI, don't move, put your hands up!"

He looked outside to see about 20 agents with guns drawn. "They all had their guns drawn, pointed at the house," he said.

Soon afterward, a man whose age he estimated at 25 to 40 was taken from the house and put into an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement van.

His wife, Barbara, said, "He was in shackles and handcuffs. He was right in front of me. He glanced at me a second."

"I'd never seen him before," said Vincent Lacerra. "It was quite amazing. I've never seen anything like it before. It seemed so real, so overwhelming."

Video shot by Barbara Lacerra showed a man in a gray shirt and handcuffs being placed in an unmarked car outside the house by agents wearing ICE jackets.

Through the morning, agents worked in the house, taking computers and boxes out of it, he said.

FBI agents also questioned employees at another Brookline gas station, at the corner of Cypress Street and Route 9, this morning. They asked about a recently hired Pakistani employee who apparently worked Sundays for the last several months, said Hiyam Jabour, the cashier at the Mobil station, who was interviewed.

Neither she nor the mechanic from the garage said they knew the man, noting that he worked on a different shift. They referred questions to Elias Audy, the owner of the station, who also owns the gas station on Harvard Street. Leaving the Harvard Street location this morning, Audy had no comment for reporters.

But Bill Audy, brother of Elias Audy, said he “wants the truth to be known.” He said he did not know the Pakistani employee but said that he worked at the gas station for “a very short time.” He said the real victim is his brother.

“This is a mess,” Audy said. “I think the media has destroyed my brother’s business. If I’m an outsider, I’ve got to wonder if the owners of the gas station are terrorists. He’s not happy about this.”

John Differ, who lives on Longwood Avenue and was born and raised in the neighborhood near the Harvard Avenue gas station, said, “I was born and raised here, and I still feel this is a good place to live. ... I know the owners and the people that work there. They’re nice. We talk sports. They like the Red Sox."

"This isn’t going to change the way I look at them. I consider some of them friends, and if they were open today, I’d still go in," he said.

Shahzad, 30, was arrested a little more than two days after a crude car bomb was found in a smoking car in Times Square. US officials have said it was very likely that the Pakistani Taliban played a role in the failed attempt.

Travis Andersen of the Globe staff and correspondent Sarah Thomas contributed to this report.

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