Car bomb suspect cooperates but motive is a mystery

2010-05-05 11:55

A man accused of trying to detonate a car bomb in Times Square

spent a decade on the path to respectability before abandoning his house in

Connecticut and deciding to supplement his business degrees with explosives

training in Pakistan, authorities say.

Faisal Shahzad, the 30-year-old son of a retired official in

Pakistan’s air force, was charged yesterday with trying to blow up a crude

gasoline and propane device inside a parked SUV amid tourists and Broadway

theatre-goers.

He was in custody after being hauled off a Dubai-bound plane he

boarded on Monday night at John F Kennedy International Airport, despite being

under surveillance and placed on the federal no-fly list.

Passengers disembarking from the flight many hours later described

a calm scene as he was removed from the plane. They said he didn’t

struggle.

US Attorney-General Eric Holder said Shahzad had been providing

valuable information to investigators as they sought to determine the scope of

the plot to blow up the SUV on Saturday night in the heart of Midtown

Manhattan.

Holder said: “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.”

A court hearing was cancelled yesterday in part because of

Shahzad’s continuing cooperation with investigators, but authorities said they

had shed little light on what might have motivated him.

Until recently, his life in the US appeared enviable. He had a

master’s degree from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, a job as a

budget analyst for a marketing firm in Norwalk, Connecticut, two children and a

well-educated wife who posted his smiling picture and lovingly called him “my

everything” on a social networking website.

But shortly after becoming a US citizen a year ago, he gave up his

job, stopped paying his mortgage and told a real estate agent to let the bank

take the house because he was returning to Pakistan.

Once there, according to investigators, he travelled to the lawless

Waziristan region and learned bomb-making at a terrorist training camp.

In court papers, investigators said Shahzad returned to the US in

February, moved into an apartment in a low-rent section of Bridgeport then set

about acquiring materials and an SUV he bought with cash in late April.

They said that after his arrest, Shahzad confessed to rigging the

bomb and driving it into Times Square. He also acknowledged getting training in

Pakistan.

The investigation of the fizzled bomb attack unfolded quickly, with

a suspect in custody in only 53 hours – but it didn’t go off without a

hitch.

After identifying Shahzad through the previous owner of the SUV,

investigators had him under surveillance when he nearly slipped away.

Authorities initially planned to arrest him at his Connecticut home

but lost track of him, two people familiar with the probe said.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t

authorised to talk publicly about the breach in surveillance.

Emirates airlines also did not initially notice when Shahzad

purchased a ticket that he had been placed on the government’s no-fly list,

according to a law enforcement official.

US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano

credited customs officials with recognising Shahzad’s name on a passenger

manifest and stopping the flight. Agents apprehended him on the plane.

Passengers said the arrest was made quietly. First-class passenger

Samir al-Ammari, a Saudi who was in the US on a business trip, said he saw

security surround the suspect.

Al-Ammari said: “Honestly, I was worried. I was planning to cancel

the flight and get another one.”

Several passengers said the revelation there was a link to the

failed Times Square bombing didn’t cause a panic.

Robert Woodward of Boulder, Colorado, said: “There was no

commotion, no general alarm or concern.”

A gun was discovered in the car Shahzad left at the airport,

investigators said.

Kifyat Ali, a cousin of Shahzad’s father, spoke with reporters

outside a two-story home the family owns in an upscale part of Peshawar,

Pakistan.

He said the family had yet to be officially informed of Shahzad’s

arrest, which he called “a conspiracy so the Americans can bomb more Pashtuns,”

a reference to a major ethnic group in Peshawar and the nearby tribal areas of

Pakistan and south-west Afghanistan.

The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the Times

Square car bomb plot, but US officials said they are still investigating this

claim.

According to a law enforcement official, federal authorities are

looking into possible financing of Shahzad’s activities by the group.

A spokesperson for Pakistan’s army said today that it does not

believe the insurgent group was behind the attempt.

In Pakistan, authorities detained several people, although the FBI

said it had no confirmation that those arrests were relevant to the case.

Shahzad came to the US in late 1998 on a student visa. Not long

after earning his MBA, he took a job at the Affinion Group, which does

brand-loyalty marketing, and stayed there until leaving voluntarily in May last

year, a company spokesperson said.

His path to citizenship was eased by his marriage to an American,

Huma Mian. Like her husband, Mian was well-educated, with a business degree from

the University of Colorado at Boulder.

On her profile on the social networking site Orkut, she described

herself as “not political”, said she spoke English, Pashto, Urdu and French and

listed her passions as “fashion, shoes, bags, shopping!! And of course, Faisal”.

– Sapa-AP


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