During his sentencing Tuesday to life in prison, Faisal Shahzad — a Pakistani immigrant who gave up a secure suburban life in America to become a terrorist for Islam — was unapologetic about his botched attempt to kill dozens of people in Times Square last spring.
After a federal judge declared that he would never leave prison, Shahzad smiled faintly, held up an index finger and declared, “Allah Akbar,” or God is great.
U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum did not bother to review parole possibilities because she said there were none.
“You appear to be someone who was capable of education,” the judge told Shahzad, “and I do hope that you will spend some of the time in prison thinking carefully about whether the Koran wants you to kill lots of people.”
As he did throughout the half-hour sentencing, Shahzad, 31, interrupted her to press his religious viewpoint: “The Koran gives us the right to defend, and that’s what all I’m doing.”
On May 1, on a bustling corner of Broadway in the theater district, Shahzad parked an SUV loaded with three homemade bombs and tried to set them off. When his attempt fizzled, he returned by train to suburban Connecticut, where he had been living off and on since he moved to America to attend college.
Authorities tracked Shahzad through the vehicle and the keys he left dangling from the ignition, and two days later he was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York aboard a plane that was about to take off for the Middle East.
At one point Tuesday, Cedarbaum asked whether Shahzad hadn’t taken an oath of allegiance to the United States when he became an American citizen a year before the bombing attempt.
“I did swear, but I did not mean it,” Shahzad said. “Human-made” laws, he elaborated, were corrupt and meant nothing to him because he abided by Sharia, or Islamic law.
“I see,” the judge said, “You took a false oath?”
“Yes,” Shahzad said.
Shahzad’s beard and hair, spilling out from under a white prayer cap, had grown long and bushy since he last appeared in court in late June and announced his desire “to plead guilty 100 times over.” Again, Shahzad lectured the judge and a packed courtroom about his guilt.
“If I am given 1,000 lives, I will sacrifice them all for the sake of Allah fighting this cause, defending our lands, making the word of Allah supreme over any religion or system,” he said.
He went on to explain how Muslims would never accept Western forces in their countries fighting on a “pretext for your democracy and freedom.” The last nine years of war, he said, have achieved nothing except to awaken Muslims to defend their “religion, people, honor and land.”
The son of a retired Pakistani air force marshal, Shahzad grew up mostly in a secular, upper-middle-class neighborhood in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. He came to the United States in 1998 as an undergraduate student, and over the years attained many of the trappings of what many here consider a successful life — two university degrees, a wife and two small children, a house in the suburbs, credit cards and a job as a junior financial analyst.
But the U.S. military presence in Muslim countries and perceived insults by Westerners toward Islam apparently had begun plaguing Shahzad, according to reports of what he told investigators, and he became increasingly religious. He returned last winter to Pakistan, first to spend time with family in Peshawar and later to attend a terrorist camp in the volatile Waziristan region, where he learned to make bombs.
After he returned to America, he left his job, allowed a house he owned in Shelton, Conn., to go into foreclosure and sent his young family to live in Pakistan with his parents. Living in a rundown neighborhood in Bridgeport, Conn., he began monitoring via the Internet a crowded corner in Times Square where he planned to blow up his vehicle.
He told police he had hoped to kill at least 40 people on the first try, and that if he hadn’t been caught he would have kept trying to blast through crowded areas in New York City until he was arrested or killed.
Toward the end of the hearing Tuesday, the judge, who had commented with obvious disgust on Shahzad’s lack of remorse, explained the appeal process to him. He nodded and again smiled at her before plainclothes officers handcuffed him and took him out of the courtroom.