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Times Square suspect charged in terror plot

U.S. prosecutors charge the man accused of trying to explode a car bomb in New York's Times Square with five counts including trying to explode a weapon of mass destruction.
/ Source: NBC, msnbc.com and news services

Seized from a plane about to fly to the Middle East, a Pakistan-born man admitted training to make bombs at a terrorism camp in his native land before he rigged an SUV with a homemade device to explode in Times Square, authorities said Tuesday.

Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen who recently spent five months in Pakistan, was arrested on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction charges that allege he tried to blow up the crude gasoline-and-propane bomb amid tourists and theatergoers Saturday evening.

He was in custody after being hauled off a Dubai-bound plane at Kennedy Airport that he had been able to board Monday night despite being placed on the federal "no-fly" list.

Authorities had planned to arrest Shahzad, who had been under constant watch from mid-afternoon, at his Connecticut home, but lost track of him, two people familiar with the probe told The Associated Press. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk publicly about the breach in surveillance.

Because Customs and Border Protection agents were on the lookout for Shahzad, they recognized his name on a passenger manifest and ordered the flight stopped so they could arrest him.

Authorities shed little light on what might have motivated Shahzad — who since moving from Pakistan to Connecticut had acquired a master's degree in business administration and a house in the suburbs that subsequently was lost to foreclosure. He reportedly came from a background of privilege and wealth — the son of a retired air vice marshal.

A real estate broker who worked with Shahzad in 2004 said the bombing suspect had expressed a dislike for former President George W. Bush and his policy in Iraq.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Shahzad has been providing valuable information to investigators as they sought to determine the scope of the plot. A court hearing for him was canceled Tuesday in part because of his continuing cooperation.

"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," Holder said.

Shahzad's court appearance Tuesday was delayed, in part because he was cooperating with authorities. The FBI read Shahzad his constitutional rights after he provided information, and he continued to cooperate, FBI Deputy Director John Pistole said.

Authorities tracked down Shahzad using the vehicle identification number on the Nissan Pathfinder that failed to detonate. They linked that number to a recent sale in Connecticut, Holder said.

Paid cash for ticket
U.S. government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Shahzad made his flight reservation on the way to the airport and paid for his ticket in cash.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, while refusing to criticize agencies, said the suspect was "clearly on the plane and shouldn't have been." Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declined to say how Shahzad was able to board the flight if he was on the no-fly list.

In Pakistan, intelligence officials told NBC they had detained five suspects in the southern city of Karachi in connection with the Times Square case, including one woman.

A Pakistani TV station reported that Shahzad spent time in Karachi and visited the northwestern city of Peshawar during his recent stay in Pakistan. Peshawar is a gateway for foreigners seeking to travel into nearby tribal regions, where militant groups have long had sanctuary.

Pakistan's embassy in Washington said it would work with U.S. intelligence to unravel the failed bombing but said at the moment it appears the would-be bomber was a lone "disturbed individual."

Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the AP that authorities had not been formally asked for help in the investigation but would cooperate if asked.

‘Hundreds of lives’
President Barack Obama said "hundreds of lives" may have been saved Saturday night by the quick action of ordinary citizens and law enforcement authorities who saw the smoking SUV parked in Times Square.

"As Americans and as a nation, we will not be terrorized. We will not cower in fear. We will not be intimidated," Obama said.

Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Pakistan, was accused of driving a car bomb into Times Square, authorities said.

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

Married with two children, Shahzad had obtained U.S. citizenship in April 2009 after emigrating from Pakistan.

He had returned Feb. 3 from a five-month trip to Pakistan, claiming he was visiting his parents, the complaint said.

Investigators hadn't established an immediate connection to the Pakistani Taliban — which had claimed responsibility for the botched bombing in three videos — or any foreign terrorist groups, a law enforcement official told the AP.

"He's claimed to have acted alone, but these are things that have to be investigated," the official said.

Another law enforcement official said Shahzad was not known to the U.S. intelligence community before the failed bombing attempt, in which authorities found a crude bomb of gasoline, propane and fireworks in a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder parked on a bustling street in Times Square.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, FBI agents searched a home where Shahzad once lived in Bridgeport, Conn., early Tuesday, said agent Kimberly Mertz, who wouldn't answer questions about the search.

Authorities removed filled plastic bags from the house in a mixed-race, working-class neighborhood of multifamily homes in Connecticut's largest city. A bomb squad came and went without entering as local police and FBI agents gathered in the cordoned-off street. FBI agents appeared to have found fireworks in the driveway that they were marking off as evidence.

He used to live in a two-story grayish-brown colonial with a sloping yard in a working-class neighborhood in Shelton. Shahzad bought the house for $273,000 in 2004 and lost it to foreclosure last year.

A neighbor in Bridgeport described him as quiet.

"Nobody ever had a problem with him," said Dawn Sampson, 34, who lives across the street from Shahzad's third-floor apartment. She said he had remodeled it and had put on the market to rent for $1,200, a fee she thought was much too high.

Law enforcement officials say Shahzad paid $1,300 cash three weeks ago for the Pathfinder, going first for a test-drive in a mall and offering less than the $1,800 advertised price. Peggy Colas, 19, of Bridgeport, sold the car to Shahzad after he answered an Internet ad, law enforcement officials said. The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.

The vehicle identification number had been removed from the Pathfinder's dashboard, but it was stamped on the engine, and investigators used it to find the owner of record, who told them a stranger bought it. As the SUV buyer came into focus, investigators backed off other leads.

The SUV was parked near a theater where the musical "The Lion King" was being performed. The bomb inside it had cheap-looking alarm clocks connected to a 16-ounce can filled with fireworks, which were apparently intended to detonate gas cans and set off propane tanks in a chain reaction "to cause mayhem, to create casualties," police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

A metal rifle cabinet 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.

Police said the SUV bomb could have produced "a significant fireball" and sprayed shrapnel with enough force to kill pedestrians and knock out windows.

A vendor alerted a police officer to the parked SUV, which was smoking. Times Square, clogged with tourists on a warm evening, was shut down for 10 hours. A bomb squad dismantled the bomb and no one was hurt.

Holder urged Americans should remain vigilant.

"It's clear that the intent behind this terrorist act was to kill Americans," he said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the arrest should not be as used as an excuse for anti-Muslim actions. "We will not tolerate any bias or backlash against Pakistani or Muslim New Yorkers," he said.

Authorities did not address Shahzad's plans in Dubai. The airport there is the Middle East's busiest and is a major transit point for passengers traveling between the West and much of Asia, particularly India and Pakistan.

Dubai-based Emirates airline said three passengers were pulled from Flight EK202, which was delayed for about seven hours. The airline did not identify Shahzad by name or name the other two passengers.

Police defused a crudely made car bomb found in a SUV parked in New York's Times Square.

The aircraft and passengers were then screened again before the flight took off Tuesday morning, and the airline is "cooperating with the local authorities," Emirates said in a statement e-mailed to the AP. The other two passengers who had been removed were allowed to get back aboard the flight, the airline said.

The suspect's vehicle also was discovered in the airport's blue lot, NBC News reported. A 9mm pistol was found inside, NBC News reported.

More than a dozen people with U.S. citizenship or residency have been accused in the past two years of supporting, attempting or carrying out attacks on U.S. soil, illustrating the threat of violent extremism from within the U.S.

Among them are Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, a U.S.-born Army psychiatrist of Palestinian descent, charged with fatally shooting 13 people last year at Fort Hood, Texas; Najibullah Zazi, a Denver-area airport shuttle driver who pleaded guilty in February in a plot to bomb New York subways; and a Pennsylvania woman who authorities say became radicalized online as "Jihad Jane" and plotted to kill a Swedish artist whose work offended Muslims.