Pa. fireworks store has video of NYC bomb suspect
Associated Press Writers
NEW YORK (AP) – A man accused of trying to detonate a car bomb in Times Square was videotaped buying consumer-grade fireworks at a Pennsylvania store that a company official said were not nearly strong enough to make a powerful bomb.
Bruce Zoldan, president of Ohio-based Phantom Fireworks, said Faisal Shahzad, 30, was captured on surveillance video buying fireworks from his company’s Matamoras, Pa., showroom, within the last two months.
“The M-88 he used wouldn’t damage a watermelon,” Zoldan said. “Thank goodness he used that.”
Shahzad was charged Tuesday with trying to blow up a crude gasoline and propane device inside a parked SUV amid tourists and Broadway theatergoers. He was in custody after being hauled off a Dubai-bound plane he boarded Monday night at Kennedy Airport despite being under surveillance and placed on the federal no-fly list.
“I was expecting you. Are you NYPD or FBI?” Shahzad told customs officials who came aboard the jet to arrest him, an official with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.
Authorities say Shahzad has admitted his role in the botched bombing plot and is cooperating with investigators, but don’t yet know whether others were involved in the plan to blow up the SUV.
U.S. officials in Washington said Wednesday they’ve been unable to verify statements that Shahzad trained at a Pakistani terror camp, according to the complaint against him, and haven’t linked him to any terror group.
Meanwhile, the official told the AP that the video police released right after the botched bombing of a man shedding his shirt near the SUV had the unintended effect of falsely reassuring the real suspect he wasn’t a target.
The unidentified man was never referred to as a suspect, but Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in his first briefing after the failed bombing that police sought to interview him. Investigators believe he is not involved with the attack, the official said. Police have not interviewed the man.
Authorities said Shahzad was not expected to appear in federal court on Wednesday. His appearance was canceled Tuesday in part because of Shahzad’s continuing cooperation with investigators, but authorities said they had shed little light on what might have motivated him.
Until recently, his life in the U.S. appeared enviable. He had a master’s degree from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, a job as a budget analyst for a marketing firm in Norwalk, Conn., two children and a well-educated wife who posted his smiling picture and lovingly called him “my everything” on a social networking website.
But shortly after becoming a U.S. citizen a year ago, he gave up his job, stopped paying his mortgage and told a real estate agent to let the bank take the house because he was returning to Pakistan.
Once there, according to investigators, he traveled to the lawless Waziristan region and learned bomb making at a terrorist training camp.
In court papers, investigators said Shahzad returned to the U.S. on Feb. 3, moved into an apartment in a low-rent section of Bridgeport, then set about acquiring materials and an SUV he bought with cash in late April. They said that after his arrest, Shahzad confessed to rigging the bomb and driving it into Times Square. He also acknowledged getting training in Pakistan, the filing said.
The investigation of the fizzled bomb attack unfolded quickly, with a suspect in custody in only 53 hours – but it didn’t go off without a hitch.
After identifying Shahzad through the previous owner of the SUV, investigators had him under surveillance when he nearly slipped away.
Authorities initially planned to arrest him at his Connecticut home but lost track of him, two people familiar with the probe told the AP. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk publicly about the breach in surveillance.
Kelly played down the slip on the morning TV talk shows Wednesday, telling ABC’s “Good Morning America” that “it’s not unusual in an investigation” to briefly lose track of the target.
Emirates airlines also didn’t initially notice when Shahzad purchased a ticket that he had been placed on the government’s no-fly list, according to a law enforcement official. Emirates said in a statement Wednesday that it is in “full compliance” with U.S. passenger check-in procedures and works closely with the government to regularly update security watch lists.
The government will now require airlines to check updated no-fly lists within two hours of being notified of changes to the list, a Homeland Security official said Wednesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the change.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano credited customs officials with recognizing Shahzad’s name on a passenger manifest and stopping the flight. Agents apprehended him on the plane.
A gun was discovered in the car Shahzad left at the airport, investigators said. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told a Senate hearing Wednesday that Shahzad purchased the gun in Connecticut and March.
Kifyat Ali, a cousin of Shahzad’s father, spoke with reporters outside a two-story home the family owns in an upscale part of Peshawar, Pakistan. He said the family had yet to be officially informed of Shahzad’s arrest, which he called “a conspiracy so the (Americans) can bomb more Pashtuns,” a reference to a major ethnic group in Peshawar and the nearby tribal areas of Pakistan and southwest Afghanistan.
The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the Times Square car bomb plot, but U.S. officials said they are still investigating. Federal authorities are looking into possible financing of Shahzad’s activities by the group, according to one of the law enforcement officials who spoke to the AP. A spokesman for Pakistan’s army said Wednesday that it does not believe the insurgent group was behind the attempt.
In Pakistan, authorities detained several people, although the FBI said it had no confirmation that those arrests were relevant to the case.
One of several people detained for questioning is a man named Mohammad Rehan, an activist related to an al-Qaida-linked militatnt group picked up at a mosque in Karachi, a senior security official told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information. Shahzad is believed to have spent time in Karachi on his most recent trip to Pakistan last year.
Rubinkam reported from Allentown, Pa. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Tom Hays, Larry Neumeister and David B. Caruso in New York; John Christoffersen in Bridgeport and Shelton, Conn.; Larry Margasak, Eileen Sullivan, Pete Yost, Matt Apuzzo and Julie Pace in Washington; Chris Brummitt in Islamabad; Adam Schreck in Dubai; Eric Tucker in Shelton; Dave Collins, Stephen Singer, Pat Eaton-Robb and Stephanie Reitz in Hartford, Conn.; and the AP News Research Center in New York.