US Citizen From Pakistan in Custody Over Times Square Bomb Plot

By Patrick Goodenough | May 4, 2010 | 4:20 AM EDT

Agents from the FBI and other law enforcement agencies work at a 24-hour operations center at FBI headquarters, Monday, May 3, 2010, in the Chelsea section of New York. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)

( – The fast-moving investigation into Saturday’s attempted car bombing in Times Square netted its first suspect overnight Tuesday, when a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen was arrested at JFK airport as he tried to leave the country for the Middle East.

The Justice Department said Faisal Shahzad was arrested “for allegedly driving a car bomb into Times Square on the evening of May 1, 2010.”

It said he would appear in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday to be presented on formal charges.

Attorney General Eric Holder in a brief early morning statement read to media said Shahzad was arrested while preparing to fly to Dubai.

Holder said the goal of those responsible for the abortive attack was to kill Americans and that they would be brought to justice. The investigation was making “really substantial progress,” he said.

“This investigation is ongoing, as are our attempts to gather useful intelligence, and we continue to pursue a number of leads.”

“As we move forward, we will focus on not just holding those responsible for it accountable, but also on obtaining any intelligence about terrorist organizations overseas,” he said.

According to published reports, but not confirmed by Holder, Shahzad is believed to be the man who bought the SUV used in the unsuccessful attack at the busy New York City landmark. The vehicle was packed with propane canisters, gasoline tanks, fireworks and a metal locker containing fertilizer which investigators said turned out to be non-explosive.

The Nissan Pathfinder was bought in Connecticut last month, after being advertised on the online trading site, Craigslist. The owner was paid $1,300 in cash.

Police sources told media outlets that the 30-year old Connecticut resident had recently returned from a trip to Pakistan.

“The investigation remains very much ongoing, and the dedicated agents, detectives, and prosecutors on this case will continue to follow every lead and use every tool to keep the people of New York City safe,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge George Venizelos and New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a joint statement.

“We will not rest until every terrorist, whether homegrown or foreign-based, is neutralized and held to account.”

This image from an undated video released by the Pakistani Taliban video and provided by IntelCenter shows Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud. (AP Photo/IntelCenter)

Earlier, the Pakistan Taliban in a video clip posted on the Internet said it was responsible for what it called “the jaw-breaking blow” to America, but the authorities said there was no evidence to back up the claim.

Another video, purportedly also posted by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), featured the group’s leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, warning that “the time is very near when our fedayeen will attack the American states in their major cities.” Fedayeen is an Arabic word for fighters.

“Our fedayeen have penetrated the terrorist America, we will give extremely painful blows to the fanatic America,” he said, according to a translation released by Flashpoint Partners, a New York-based global security firm.

Mehsud was reported to have been killed in a January U.S. drone strike in Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal belt adjacent to Afghanistan. The message said news of his death was propaganda and that he was “alive and healthy.”

Various militant groups in Pakistan’s tribal belt and the adjoining North West Frontier Province came together in late 2007 to form TTP under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud (a member of the same clan as Hakimullah, but apparently not directly related.)

Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a drone attack in August 2009, and the group has threatened to avenge his death by mounting attacks against the U.S. homeland.

In the recent video, Hakimullah Mehsud referred to the deaths of his “martyred” predecessor as well as those of “many respected brothers from al-Qaeda who were Arab commanders and they only came to us for shelter.”
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow