The Pakistani Taliban on Thursday denied any role in the botched car bombing in Times Square but praised the suspect for a "brave job," as New York authorities pressed him on his claims of terrorist training.
U.S. law enforcement officials traveled to Pakistan to question four alleged members of another militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, about possible connections to Faisal Shahzad, who is charged with terrorism and weapons offenses in the failed bombing that shut down Times Square and unnerved tourists and theatergoers on a busy Saturday night.
Scary headlines kept New York on edge Thursday and law enforcement agencies pounced on anything suspicious. The bomb squad was called out to look at a truck with a strong odor of gasoline that was abandoned on the Manhattan Bridge, but nothing dangerous was found inside, and a flight to the Mideast on the same airline that Shahzad boarded before his arrest Monday was called back when a passenger's name was similar to that of someone on the government's "no-fly" list.
The 30-year-old Shahzad — an ex-budget analyst who had been living in a low-rent Bridgeport, Conn., apartment since returning from a five-month trip to Pakistan — is in custody and talking to investigators. They are trying to trace his movements in his homeland and whether he is connected to foreign terrorist groups.
"He's being cooperative," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, adding that investigators want to find out if "what he's saying is in fact the truth."
'Such attacks are welcome'
Law enforcement officials have sought to find out if Shahzad is connected to a broader terror plot and are trying to trace his steps during his trip to Pakistan that ended in February. U.S. authorities said they have yet to establish a firm link between Shahzad and an extremist group.
"We are directly looking at who did he have contact with while in Pakistan, what did he do, who is supporting him and why," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, adding that U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson laid groundwork for requesting help from Pakistan by reaching out to Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
A senior State Department official said the administration would be asking Pakistan to take "significant" actions based on what Shahzad has been telling investigators about his visits to the country. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the requests have not yet been made.
Federal officials are investigating how Shahzad paid his rent and financed the bomb plot since he returned from Pakistan with no apparent job. He paid for the used SUV with 13 $100 bills. Officials have been investigating if Shahzad was got money from militant groups — including the Pakistani Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the bombing in three videos over the weekend, a law enforcement official has told The Associated Press.
The group on Thursday reversed that earlier position, with one spokesman saying the Pakistani Taliban had nothing to do with the attempted bombing, but adding: "Such attacks are welcome."
"We have no relation with Faisal. However, he is our Muslim brother," Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told the AP in Pakistan by telephone from an undisclosed location. "We feel proud of Faisal. He did a brave job."
Digging for clues
Tariq said the Taliban only knew from media reports that Shahzad had told authorities he learned how to make bombs in Waziristan, an autonomous tribal region of Pakistan seen as a terrorist stronghold.
The group has never launched a successful terrorist attack against the U.S.
Kelly said Shahzad has claimed he got bomb-making and small arms training at camps in Pakistan before returning to the United States. The crude bomb was rigged with gasoline and propane tanks, battery-operated alarm clocks and fertilizer with no explosive power and didn't go off. A retired NYPD bomb squad member told the AP that the design of the bomb showed the suspect had some training but failed to grasp how to attach a detonator or use the right kind of fertilizer.
"He was trained, but he certainly didn't graduate at the top of the class," Kevin Barry said.
In Karachi, Pakistan, U.S. and Pakistani officials questioned four alleged members of the Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group, two Pakistani security officials told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. The militant group is believed to have been established by Pakistani intelligence agencies, and has been linked to the al-Qaida terror network and the 2002 killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
Shahzad's father — a former top air force officer — was taken in to protective custody by Pakistan's main intelligence agency, an agent from the organization said. The father was not a suspect and was being questioned about his son's activities, the agent said.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Shahzad is continuing to provide useful information to authorities and rejected notions that reading him his Miranda rights hindered investigators. Shahzad faces a potential life prison term, Holder said.
"We will continue to pursue a number of leads as we gather intelligence relating to this attempted attack," Holder told a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing.
'What if ...?'
The botched bombing left Times Square with a heightened sense of security, even after several days.
Alioune Niass, a Senegalese vendor who saw the bomb-loaded SUV spitting out smoke Saturday evening, was worried about the sacks of garbage piled up on the street near his gift stand.
"Anyone could wrap a bomb in a trash bag and add it to this pile," Niass said, pointing to a huge mound of black plastic bags near the site of the failed car bomb.
Wesley Weddington, 51, an Army veteran selling "I Love New York" T-shirts, pointed to the heavy police presence: "This is the safest place today other than the White House," he said.
"You keep thinking, 'What if ...?" said Yalixa Sanchez, who works in a shop nearby. "But I've been through 9/11 and like every New Yorker, you have to get used to this." \