Times Square bomb suspect admits involvement in failed attack

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Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

A Pakistani American charged with plotting to detonate a car bomb in Times Square received explosives training in Pakistan’s volatile Waziristan region, a Taliban stronghold, and admitted driving an SUV from his Connecticut home to Manhattan in hopes of blowing it up on a crowded corner, according to a complaint unsealed Tuesday.

Additional arrests in the case were reported in Pakistan, which according to the five-count complaint was where Faisal Shahzad, 31, began preparing for the attack as long ago as December. The allegations include the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and an attempt to kill or maim, as well as other terrorism-related charges involving the transport of the explosives.

“A far broader investigation is ongoing, and alleged facilitators in Pakistan have already been arrested,” said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee on Intelligence. “Our liaison relationship with Pakistan intelligence is yielding impressive results.”

Harman did not identify the others arrested, but Pakistani intelligence officials said authorities in Karachi had arrested two men whom Shahzad visited in the city’s Gulshan Iqbal neighborhood over the summer. The sources, who identified one man as Tauseef Ahmed and the other only as Iftikhar, did not know whether the men were linked to any Pakistani militant group.

Law enforcement officials said Shahzad, who was arrested late Monday as he attempted to fly out of the United States, confessed to the bomb plot and was cooperating with investigators. “He has been talking to us and providing us with useful information,” Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said.

Investigators have said it is too early to say whether Shahzad worked alone or as part of a group, and whether he was operating on behalf of a terrorist organization such as the Pakistani Taliban, which has claimed responsibility for Saturday’s failed attack.

Shahzad told investigators when he was arrested that he had “recently received bomb-making training in Waziristan,” the complaint alleged.

Details contained in the 10-page complaint make it clear that despite his training, Shahzad, who reportedly once worked as a junior financial analyst, was far from smooth as he tried to complete his mission.

Among evidence collected was a key to Shahzad’s Bridgeport, Conn., home; it was among those dangling from the ignition of the SUV when he left it on West 45th Street near Broadway. And cellphone records show him receiving several calls from Pakistan as he purchased the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder.

The SUV’s seller, a Bridgeport resident, told investigators that Shahzad was careful to check the storage area of the SUV but did not seem concerned about the engine, and that he did not want to complete paperwork to register the sale. Instead, after paying for the car with 13 $100 bills, Shahzad showed the seller that he had his own license plate, took the key, and drove away.

Material taken from Shahzad’s apartment, which was searched by FBI agents Tuesday, included fertilizer and fireworks, both of which were used in constructing the car bomb. The bomb failed to detonate properly, but New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said it would have created a “significant fireball” and sent shrapnel flying through crowded streets if it had succeeded.

Shahzad, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in April 2009, apparently was not on any watch lists before the bombing attempt, but Harman said information gleaned during a screening of Shahzad when he returned to the United States in February after a visit to Pakistan “yielded critical contact information that was entered into the system and used in his arrest yesterday.”

Shahzad was on a jet at the tarmac at John F. Kennedy International Airport and preparing to leave for the Middle East when the flight was stopped and he was removed. Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano rejected suggestions that Shahzad had nearly slipped away, and said his arrest at the last minute showed that the system had worked.

“I was never in any fear we were in danger of losing him,” Holder said.

A law enforcement official who was not authorized to speak publicly said Shahzad was added to the no-fly list only on Monday as a result of late-breaking developments in the investigation, and electronic notifications were sent to airlines. But there is a lag time in the system, and no alert was triggered when he checked in for his flight, the official said.

U.S. Customs and Border agents who had been scanning passenger manifests “identified his plane and removed him from the aircraft,” Harman said.

Shahzad is originally from Pabi, a small village outside the northwestern Pakistani city of Nowshera, Pakistani intelligence sources said. He later moved to Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, where he lived in an upper-middle-class neighborhood and where some relatives remain, the sources said. During a visit to Pakistan last summer, Shahzad visited Peshawar, the sprawling city in northwestern Pakistan that borders the troubled tribal regions along the Afghan border.

Shahzad became the focus of the investigation after investigators were able to find the identification number of the SUV and then trace him through e-mail conversations he had with the seller, who had advertised it online last month. When he left the vehicle in Times Square, it held fireworks, plastic cans of gasoline, wires, alarm clocks, and propane tanks.

“We believe that this suspected terrorist fashioned a bomb from rudimentary ingredients, placed it in a rusty SUV and drove it into Times Square, with the intent to kill as many innocent tourists and theatergoers as possible,” Holder said.

Times staff writers Alex Rodriguez in Islamabad and Nathaniel Popper in New York, and Ken Dilanian of the Washington bureau contributed to this report.