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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Faisal Shahzad Tried To Leave U.S. After Times Square Terrorist Plot

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Times Square Bomb Suspect Nabbed At Airport

Authorities arrested a U.S. citizen in connection with the failed bombing attempt in New York's Times Square as he tried to leave the country, Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday.

Faisal Shahzad, 30, was arrested at 11:45 p.m. ET Monday night by Customs and Border Protection agents as he attempted to board an Emirates airlines flight to Dubai at New York's JFK airport, officials said.

"It is clear that the intent behind this terrorist act was to kill Americans," Holder said.

Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Pakistan, was accused of driving a car bomb into Times Square, authorities said. He will appear in Manhattan Federal Court later Tuesday.

A law enforcement official told news services Tuesday that Shahzad said he had no accomplices: "He's claimed to have acted alone, but these are things that have to be investigated."

Holder said the investigation was ongoing and that law enforcement officials had gathered "significant additional evidence." He urged Americans to remain vigilant.

"The American people should know that we are deploying every resource available and we will not rest until we have brought everyone responsible to justice," Holder said.

Trip to Pakistan

Earlier, officials told The Associated Press that the suspect recently returned from a trip to Pakistan, where he has a wife. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the case was at a sensitive stage.

Shahzad will face charges "for allegedly driving a car bomb into Times Square on the evening of May 1," according to a statement by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, FBI agent George Venizelos and New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Emirates said in a statement that one passenger was stopped at the gate and a further two passengers were removed from on board the plane. It was unclear what happened to the other two.

"Full security procedures were activated including the deplaning of all passengers and a thorough screening of the aircraft, passengers and baggage," an Emirates spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement.

Shahzad was being held in New York and couldn't be contacted. He has a Shelton, Conn., address and a phone number listed there wasn't in service. Investigators were searching his home.

Law enforcement officials said Shahzad bought the SUV, a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder, that was parked in Times Square on Saturday from a person in Connecticut three weeks ago. NBC News reported he paid $1,300 in cash for the vehicle, which had been advertised on website Craigslist.

NBC News earlier reported the suspect's name was on an e-mail that was sent to the car's seller last month.

The website Politico, citing an unnamed senior official, reported that a number from disposable cell phone used by the buyer of the SUV had led to the suspect's arrest.

“They were able to basically get one phone number and by running it through a number of databases, figure out who they thought the guy was,” the official told Politico.

The suspect didn't still have the phone, the website reported, but agents were still able to locate the suspect.

In Bridgeport, the seller refused to answer questions put by the Times. "You can't interview her," said an unidentified man at the woman’s white clapboard house. "She already talked to the FBI."

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A man in his 40s who was seen in a security camera video apparently walking away from the SUV was initially a focus of the investigation.

But the New York police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, told the Times that while investigators still wanted to speak to that man, he might not be connected to the failed bombing. Paul J. Browne, a spokesman for the department, told the paper: "It may turn out that he was just somebody in the area, but not connected with the car bomb."

A metal rifle cabinet placed in the SUV's cargo area was packed with fertilizer, but NYPD bomb experts believe it was not a type volatile enough to explode like the ammonium nitrate grade fertilizer used in previous terrorist bombings.

However, police said it could have produced "a significant fireball" and sprayed shrapnel with enough force to kill pedestrians and knock out windows.

Rube Goldberg contraption

James M. Cavanaugh, a former bomb expert with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who investigated car bombs and tracked the Unabomber, told The New York Times that the device and the way it was designed speak to a "grandiose purpose."

"I call this a Rube Goldberg contraption," Cavanaugh told the newspaper. "It's the 'swing-the-arm-with-the-shoe-that-hits-the-ball-and-knocks-over-a-stick-that-knocks-something-off-a-shelf' and it is all supposed to work."

He said that whoever made the bomb had "more desire than ability."

The Times also reported that Kevin B. Barry, an official with the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators, said the attempted bomber had left many leads for detectives to follow.

“He was trying to cover his tracks, but he left more clues than a guy walking into a bank to rob it without a mask. This guy left everything here but his wallet," Barry said.

Chris Falkenberg, president of Insite Security, which works with Fortune 500 companies, said the device, as described by authorities, "doesn't differ much at all from 'The Anarchist Cookbook'" — the underground 1971 manual for homemade explosives.

He said revelations that the fertilizer used could not have exploded suggested "this is amateur hour. My kids could build a better bomb than this."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg early Tuesday thanked law enforcement officials, saying that their "focused and swift efforts led to this arrest after only 48 hours of around-the-clock investigation. I hope their impressive work serves as a lesson to anyone who would do us harm."

A senior White House official said President Barack Obama was briefed six times yesterday about the investigation and was notified of Shahzad's arrest at 12:05 am Tuesday.

The Taliban in Pakistan said Sunday it planted the bomb to avenge the killing in April of al-Qaida's two top leaders in Iraq as well as U.S. interference in Muslim countries.

Some officials voiced skepticism about the claim. But former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel, who last year oversaw an Obama administration strategy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan, cautioned against dismissing a possible role by the Taliban.

"They have said they want to attack inside the United States," he said before the arrest was announced, adding there was "a very serious possibility" the incident involved "some Pakistani-American who has never built a car bomb before in his life but who is being coached either by phone or internet."

In Pakistan, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said authorities had not been formally asked for help in the probe. "When the request comes, we will cooperate with the U.S. government," he told the AP.

The location of the bomb suggests a number of possible targets. The SUV was parked near offices of Viacom Inc., which owns Comedy Central. The network recently aired an episode of the animated show "South Park" that the group Revolution Muslim had complained insulted the Prophet Muhammad by depicting him in a bear costume.

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Sources: MSNBC, NY Daily News, Google Maps

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