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Friend: Money probems changed NYC suspect

Faisal Shahzad and his wife came from privileged backgrounds. Friends say “he wasn't a bit religious," but he recently he had money woes and “started talking more of Islam.”
/ Source: The New York Times

Theirs was an arranged marriage: two well-educated children of prominent Pakistani families set up through a mutual friend. He was the quiet one; she was the one who laughed at parties.

At their wedding in Peshawar six years ago, men and women danced separately but also together, “a rarity at that time,” recalled one guest. “It was such a huge gathering that even their family friends from Qatar came.”

When they returned to the United States, his colleagues at the cosmetics maker Elizabeth Arden celebrated with a small office party.

The husband, Faisal Shahzad, put photographs of his wife, Huma Mian, on his desk at the Arden office in Stamford, Conn. They bought a brand-new house for $273,000, 35 miles away on Long Hill Avenue in Shelton. By the time they moved in, she was pregnant, the neighbors recalled.

As another day passed with Mr. Shahzad talking to investigators about the car bomb he had admitted driving into Times Square on Saturday, details emerged on Wednesday about the couple and their life together, along with speculation about his radicalization. People who knew them, both in Connecticut and in Pakistan, said he had changed in the past year or so, becoming more reserved and more religious as he faced what someone who knows the family well called “their financial troubles.”

Last year, one Pakistani friend said, he even asked his father, Bahar ul-Haq, a retired high-ranking air force pilot in Pakistan, for permission to fight in Afghanistan.

Mr. Haq, now in his 70s, adamantly refused, according to a person familiar with the conversation, saying that he disapproved of the mission and reminding his son that Islam does not permit a man to abandon his wife or children.

'Money woes'
As a newlywed, the wedding guest said of Mr. Shahzad by e-mail from Pakistan, “there was no sign of him being extremist or, for that matter, he wasn’t a bit religious.” But in the past couple of years, after changing jobs and fathering two children, Mr. Shahzad “started talking more of Islam.” The guest spoke on the condition he not be identified because of concerns about his safety in the wake of the attempted car bombing.

“The recession had taken a toll on them, I guess,” he wrote in an e-mail message from Pakistan. He said that their money worries became apparent in 2008 or 2009 and that Mr. Shahzad “lost his way during the financial problems.” JPMorgan Chase has since moved to foreclose on the Shelton house, which the couple had abandoned in a hurry, leaving behind clothes and toys.

In February, Mr. Shahzad leased a two-bedroom apartment in Bridgeport, Conn. His landlord said he never saw Mr. Shahzad’s wife. Faiz Ahmad, a friend from the Shahzad family’s ancestral village, Mohib Banda, said that when he last saw Mr. Shahzad, at a wedding a year and a half ago, he was sure that something was wrong. Mr. Shahzad seemed changed, he said, sitting by himself and not talking very much.

He was “completely quiet on the sofa, like someone who has some worries, and undergoing some internal change,” Mr. Ahmad said. “So he was sitting silent, silent. And silence in itself is a question.”

A Pakistani man said that an acquaintance of his who was a friend of the Shahzad family told him that within the past year, Mr. Shahzad had peered critically at a glass of whiskey the friend was holding, indicating a judgmental stance typical for rigid jihadis.

Mr. Shahzad, now 30, appeared to be tracing a familiar arc of frustration, increasing religiosity and, finally, violence. He was born and raised in Pakistan, with a privileged upbringing in a moderate family that lived in at least three places — Karachi, Rawalpindi and Mohib Banda. Mr. Haq, according to Mr. Ahmad, “was a man of modern thinking and of the modern age.”

Family friends interviewed on Wednesday said they believed that Mr. Haq was in hiding in the city of Dera Ghazi Khan in western Pakistan, where the family has wheat fields. Mr. Shahzad’s wife was also believed to be in Pakistan, though her whereabouts was unknown. Dawn, a Pakistani daily, reported that her father had been arrested in Karachi, but Pakistani authorities would not confirm that.

Mr. Shahzad, the youngest of four, was born into a new generation in the years after a military autocrat, Zia ul-Haq, began to inject a rigid version of Islam into Pakistan’s education system. At the same time, hard-line mosques were given money and land, elevating a narrow, often sectarian world view that cast a pall over young Pakistanis.

Ms. Mian, the oldest of four, was born in Colorado, though she spent summer vacations in Pakistan and lived with her family in Qatar for a while as a child, according to the wedding guest. Her father, Mohammad Asif Mian, earned two master’s degrees at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo., in the 1980s, and has written four books.

In the best-selling “Project Economics and Decision Analysis,” published in 2002, Mr. Mian thanked family members for their patience and support, adding, “Special thanks to my daughters at the University of Colorado for being on the dean’s list; this has contributed a lot to my enthusiasm.”

Ms. Mian and her sisters, Saba and Hina, all studied at Denver-area colleges and shared a house just off the campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder in 2003 and 2004.

Huma Mian married Mr. Shahzad soon after earning an accounting degree in 2004, and moved to Connecticut, where he was pursuing an M.B.A. at the University of Bridgeport and, on an H-1B visa for highly skilled workers, was working as an operation analyst at Elizabeth Arden, managing and analyzing accounts receivable, according to a résumé obtained by MSNBC.

“I was always surprised, with her having to buy milk for the baby and everything else, how they afforded this on one income,” recalled Brenda J. Thurman, a neighbor in Shelton.

The couple did not socialize much with people on their block. “It was three years before I knew she spoke English,” Ms. Thurman said.

Clues in the trash
Ms. Thurman said that Ms. Mian left for a couple of months in late 2008 or early 2009, and that Mr. Shahzad told her she was going to Pakistan to have their second child. Within a few months of her return, they packed up and left again last summer. Mr. Shahzad, who had left Elizabeth Arden in 2006 to become a client reporting analyst at Affinion, a financial marketing services company in Norwalk, Conn., quit his job there.

Piles of garbage remained outside the home in Shelton this week, filled with clues about their lives. There were packets of Nair, moisturizer with Arabic writing on the back, a makeup brush, a Japanese cherry blossom scent body spritzer, wrapping paper and gift bags that appeared to be for baby gifts.

There was an envelope addressed to “Faisal, Huma and Alishaba,” which contained a card proclaiming, “Congratulations on your new little girl!”

How, why or where Mr. Shahzad became radicalized remains unclear. Dr. Saud Anwar, the founder of a Pakistani-American association in Connecticut, said that as soon as Mr. Shahzad’s name surfaced in connection with the car bomb, he canvassed Connecticut Muslim and Pakistani groups and found he was not involved with any of them.

'More introverted'
But Dr. Anwar said he had been in touch with a university classmate of Mr. Shahzad’s, a man of Pakistani descent who told Dr. Anwar he did not want to be interviewed by reporters. The classmate said he had remained friends with the couple and had noticed something different about Mr. Shahzad about a year ago.

“His personality had changed — he had become more introverted,” Dr. Anwar said the classmate told him. “He had a stronger religious identity, where he felt more strongly and more opinionated about things.” Dr. Anwar said he had asked the classmate whether this change had come through association with a group, and the friend said it seemed to be “on his own that he was learning all these things.”

Mr. Ahmad, the friend from Mohib Banda, speculated that the transformation was rooted in Karachi. An associate of Mr. Shahzad’s was arrested in a mosque believed to have ties with a militant group in Karachi early Tuesday, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

“The question is who has put Faisal in this path?” Mr. Ahmad asked. “The Faisal with the beard that you see, he was not the old Faisal. He was like you, like me, handsome, liberal and an active person.”

According to Pakistan’s information minister, Mr. Shahzad traveled to Pakistan 13 times in the past seven years. One Pakistani official who knew the family said it was unlikely that Mr. Shahzad would have been radicalized in Pakistan if he was only on short trips, which tend to be dominated by family commitments like weddings; the criminal complaint against him filed on Tuesday says that he returned in February from a five-month stint. It also said Mr. Shahzad had been trained in bomb-making in Waziristan.

Another family friend in Pakistan, Kifayat Ali, called Mr. Shahzad “emotional” and said that he used to carry a dagger around with him as a boy. He speculated that Mr. Shahzad had become enraged by the United States’ military actions, fueled by the Pakistani press blaring conspiracy theories and anti-American vitriol.

“A person sees the brutality of Afghanistan and Iraq,” Mr. Ali noted. “These scenes affect people.”

The résumé posted Wednesday on said Mr. Shahzad held three different positions at Elizabeth Arden over five years starting in mid-2001, and then spent three years at Affinion. At Arden, he said he had “decreased bad debt write-offs by 47 percent” and “recovered over $2.5 mil in ‘lost’ revenue.” At Affinion, he said he prepared “monthly commission forecasting for high-profile Affinion clients such as Citibank, Bank of America, Royal Bank of Scotland, Peoples Bank, US Bank, Wells Fargo and a couple of smaller clients.”

But James Hart, an Affinion spokesman, said “there’s a lot of résumé puffery in there” and that Mr. Shahzad had been “one rung up from entry level” when he left.

A former manager at Elizabeth Arden said that he was the only Pakistani working for the company at the time, but never asked for special accommodation for prayer. And she remembered that on Sept. 11, Mr. Shahzad, like everyone else, huddled around the one radio in the office, listening to bulletins about the attacks on the World Trade Center.

“I think he was just normal,” she recalled. “Isn’t it always the case, though? It’s always the normal ones that you don’t really think they’re going to do something like this.”

Reporting for articles on the Times Square bomb case was contributed by Peter Baker, Anne Barnard, Nina Bernstein, Alison Leigh Cowan, Adam B. Ellick, Andrea Elliott, Dan Frosch, Kirk Johnson, Mark Landler, Mike McIntire, Sharon Otterman, Ray Rivera, David E. Sanger, Michael S. Schmidt, Daniel E. Slotnik, Adam Ellick and Karen Zraick.

This story, first appeared in The New York Times.