Three people were arrested Thursday morning as FBI agents began executing search warrants at several spots in the Northeast as part of a widening investigation into the financial support for the failed Times Square bombing, federal law enforcement officials said.
Those taken into federal custody were being held on alleged immigration violations, and authorities cautioned that the FBI raids were not prompted by a new terrorist threat or plot. Rather, a government source said, investigators were following up on leads regarding how the suspected would-be bomber, 30-year-old Faisal Shahzad, obtained the cash to purchase a $1,300 Nissan Pathfinder and to build a bomb using fertilizer and a propane tank.
“These searches are the product of evidence that has been gathered in the investigation subsequent to the attempted Times Square bombing,” Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said in testimony on Capitol Hill as the raids were underway. “This is an ongoing investigation and we are actively pursuing all those who were involved.”
Among the sites searched were a home in Watertown, Mass., and a gas station in Brookline, both suburbs of Boston. Agents also were searching a print shop in New Jersey, and homes in Long Island, N.Y., and in Maine.
Officials did not identify those arrested or explain their alleged connection to Shahzad, although one law enforcement official familiar with the arrests indicated that there was a tie to the Pakistani American arrested in the May 1 bombing attempt.
“These people were certainly targets of the warrants,” he said. “They weren’t collateral arrests.”
Officials said the three people being detained included two Pakistani immigrants arrested in the Boston area, and a third arrested in Maine.
Ashim Chakraborty, an immigrant from Bangladesh, said in a telephone interview that FBI agents knocked on his door in Centereach, N.Y., at 7:30 a.m. and asked about a tenant in a basement apartment. The tenant was not home, but Chakraborty allowed the agents to search the apartment where the tenant has stayed with his U.S.-born wife and their young daughter for the last year and a half. He said the tenant was employed at a home improvement store.
“He’s a hard worker and has an income and … has stayed married and made his rent. So I know he’s a good guy,” Chakraborty said. “But if he’s going to fit into the Times Square bombing, I don’t know. If he’s involved, he deserves punishment.”
Holder, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, said Shahzad had been cooperative since he was taken off a flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and charged with attempting to detonate the bomb inside the SUV.
“When questioned by federal agents, he provided useful information to us,” Holder said. “We are continuing to pursue leads and gather intelligence relating to this attempted terrorist attack. We will continue to use all available tools whenever possible against suspected terrorists.”
The attorney general also said that Department of Justice officials were studying the possibility of revoking Shahzad’s citizenship, obtained last year through naturalization after his marriage to a U.S. citizen.
Holder added that investigators also were trying to determine Shahzad’s motive. “We are in the process now of talking to Mr. Shahzad to try to understand what it is that drove him to take the actions he took. There are a variety of reasons why people do these things. Some of them are potentially religious.”
Pressed on whether a radical militant leader such as Anwar Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who has been tied to other terrorist plots against the United States, might also be behind the Times Square attempt, Holder said, “I certainly think that it’s possible that people who espouse a radical version of Islam have had an ability to have an impact on people like Mr. Shahzad.”
Holder praised the work of federal agents and the New York police in capturing Shahzad two days after the attempted bombing, just as he was about to leave the country. But several committee members suggested it was mostly luck and Shahzad’s carelessness.
“This attack was stymied by his ineptness and alert pedestrians,” said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the top Republican on the panel. “Our national security policy should consist of more than just dumb bombers and smart citizens, because sooner or later, a terrorist is going to build a bomb that works.”
Ken Dilanian in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.