Times Square car bomb suspect appears in NY court
NEW YORK (AP) – The suspect in a botched car bombing in Times Square appeared in court Tuesday on terrorism and weapons charges for the first time since his arrest two weeks ago and was quickly led away in handcuffs after being held without bail.
Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistan-born U.S. citizen, muttered one word at the 10-minute hearing – “yes” – when asked to confirm an affidavit about his financial status, which allowed him to have a public defender appointed.
Shahzad, wearing a gray sweatsuit and with his hair a bit longer than in photos splashed around the world, was handcuffed behind his back and led out of court after a magistrate read him his rights.
His attorney, Julia Gatto, asked during the hearing if Shahzad could be provided with halal meals, according to Muslim dietary laws that govern how food is prepared. She didn’t comment afterward and didn’t immediately return an e-mail message.
The federal courtroom had extra officers on hand and was emptied for a security sweep immediately before the hearing.
Shahzad, 30, of Bridgeport, Conn., was arrested May 3 on a Dubai-bound plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport on charges that he drove an SUV rigged with a homemade car bomb into Times Square two nights earlier, sending thousands of tourists into a panic on a busy Saturday night. The bomb didn’t explode, and no one was hurt.
Authorities say the former budget analyst had voluntarily waived his rights to an initial court appearance while he was cooperating. His decision to talk to investigators without an appearance that normally happens a day or do after arrest was allowed by law but is uncommon for a suspect without a formal plea deal with prosecutors. Shahzad didn’t enter a plea Tuesday to any of the five felony counts against him.
Since his arrest, Shahzad “has provided valuable intelligence from which further investigative action has been taken,” the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan said in a statement. The investigation continues, the statement said.
Shahzad is charged with attempted use of weapons of mass destruction and attempting acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, each carrying a maximum life term; using a destructive device in an attempted violent crime, punishable by up to 30 years in prison; transporting and receiving explosives, punishable by up to 10 years; and attempting to damage and destroy property with fire and explosives, punishable by five to 20 years.
Authorities said shortly after Shahzad’s arrest that he had admitted driving the SUV bomb into Times Square and told authorities he had received terror training during a recent five-month trip to Pakistan.
Federal authorities raided locations in three states last week and picked up on immigration violations three men who are suspected of providing money to Shahzad to help build the homemade bomb of fireworks, propane and battery-operated alarm clocks. Several people also have been taken into custody in Pakistan.
CIA Director Leon Panetta and retired Gen. James Jones, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, were in Pakistan on Tuesday meeting with officials there on the failed Times Square bombing and the terrorist safe havens where the suspect is believed to have received training.
In light of the attack, National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said, “we believe that it is time to redouble our efforts with our allies in Pakistan to close this safe haven and create an environment where we and the Pakistani people can lead safe and productive lives.”
One U.S. official said the trip is not confined to the Times Square bombing attempt but noted that the emphasis is on cooperation between the two countries in keeping pressure on extremists in that region. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the meetings.
Shahzad appeared in court on the same day a New York defense attorney wrote a letter to a chief federal court judge demanding he be produced.
Ron Kuby accused authorities of violating Shahzad’s rights by “squeezing him for information” in secret. He argued that federal authorities were violating criminal procedures requiring suspects to be promptly presented in court.
“A suspect buried in the bowels of a Manhattan version of Guantanamo … is essentially without power to compel the government to comply” with the procedures, he wrote.
Authorities have not publicly addressed a possible motive for the bombing attempt. But in e-mails provided to The Associated Press by a Connecticut doctor, Shahzad complained that Muslims were under siege around the globe.
“Everyone knows how the Muslim country bows down to pressure from the West,” he wrote on Feb. 25, 2006. “Everyone knows the kind of humiliation we are faced with around the globe.”
In the same e-mail, Shahzad says Muslims are “attacked and occupied by foreign infidel forces.” He cites cartoon drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, the plight of the Palestinians and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Friends with peaceful protest!” he writes. “Can you tell me a way to save the oppressed? And a way to fight back when rockets are fired at us and Muslim blood flows?”
The e-mails, first reported by The New York Times, were provided by Dr. Saud Anwar, a founder of the Pakistani American Association of Connecticut, who said he was given them by a Shahzad friend who received them.