Exclusive: Terror Suspect Got Cash at LIRR Station

Money was collected from far reaching points, Feds say.

By Jonathan Dienst, Pei-Sze Cheng and Tim Minton
|  Wednesday, Mar 30, 2011  |  Updated 1:07 AM EDT
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Three men are arrested after <a title=FBI raids several cities in three states: Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey. Investigators are trying to determine whether the men supplied cash to Times Square suspect Faisal Shahzad." />

Three men are arrested after FBI raids several cities in three states: Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey. Investigators are trying to determine whether the men supplied cash to Times Square suspect Faisal Shahzad.

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The Times Square bomb suspect allegedly took a Long Island Railroad train to the Ronkonkoma station for an April meeting to collect $4,000 in cash, officials told NBCNewYork. 

Sources familiar with the investigation said Faisal Shahzad is believed to have used some of that money for his alleged bomb plot.

With investigators still questioning Shahzad nine days after his arrest, the FBI Thursday fanned out across four states searching locations where he may have tried to receive money-wires from Pakistan.  Searches took place in Centereach and Shirley Long Island, Cherry Hill and Camden, New Jersey, Watertown and Brookline, Massachusetts as well as Portland, Maine.

Federal officials say the searches were to check out money couriers who may have facilitated currency exchanges for Shahzad, the man accused of driving a bomb-laden SUV into the heart of the city on May 1 with the intent to kill Americans. The vehicle smoldered but didn't explode. Federal agents, tracing the 30-year-old Shahzad through the SUV's previous owner, caught him two days later on a plane bound for the United Arab Emirates as it was departing New York's Kennedy Airport

U.S. immigration agents on Thursday took three men into custody - two in the Boston area and one in Maine. The Boston men, identified as Pir Khan and Aftab Khan, are not charged in connection with the terror plot, and officials said the third man wasn't involved in the plot either.

A fourth man was later arrested by the Pakistani government in Pakistan, officials say. That man -- linked to a Pakistani militant group -- told investigators he helped Shahzad get bomb training with the Taliban, according to The Washington Post.

Officials said it is still unclear if anyone who might have helped Shahzad get money had any idea about his bomb plans. 

In Centereach Long Island, the FBI searched the basement apartment of Mohammed Younus along Oxhead Street looking for possible evidence.  Younus has not been charged with any wrongdoing, officials said.

In Shirley, Mohammad Iqbal's house was searched. He said while "he understands authorities have to do this to root out criminals," he doesn't agree with how they did it -- he feels his family has been terrorized by this search and five hour long inquisition and he said he feels he was "targeted because he is from Pakistan."  

Iqbal said about eight agents searched his home, they took two of his old cellphones and they downloaded information from his children's computer.  He said his wife and five children, who are between the ages of 2 and 9, were terrified by the early morning visit.

Investigators said the reason the raids spanned such a large area is because the old-world money lending system Shahzad used to raise funds, called Hawala, connects people in disparate places. In this informal system, money is sent through brokers who lend and collect money through an honor system.

Investigators do not believe any of the brokers knew Shahzad was planning an attack when they passed on funds to him.  But officials seized records trying to see who in Pakistan may have sent money here -- cash which Shahzad is believed to have later for the alleged bomb plot.
  
Shahzad might have been in contact with brokers from Maine to South Jersey because of the route money was sent from overseas.

A woman living in the raided home in Centereach, L.I. told reporters through a closed front door: "Go find real people who are terrorists. Leave me alone, I'm American." When a reporter asked if she would open the door, she responded: "drop dead."

Vinny Lacerra, 50, who lives across the street from the house raided in Watertown, said he was in his living room about 6 a.m. when he heard somebody say, "FBI! Put your hands up!''

Lacerra said he looked out his windows and saw 15 to 20 FBI agents with their guns drawn surrounding the house.

He said about 15 minutes later, the agents went inside and came out with one man handcuffed and took him down the street. He also said he saw an agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"I was surprised to see this because this is what you see on TV,'' Lacerra said.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara Thursday said there is no new threat information and the raids are just another step in the ongoing Times Square bomb plot investigation.

"Faisal Shahzad is still cooperating," Bharara said. "We are doing exactly what I think people want us to do.  And that is to make sure we get all the information we can with respect to any and all associates he may have."

Bharara added that the searched "do not involve any imminent threat and do not involve any active plot that we are aware of."

Prosecutors said Shahzad has waived his right for a court hearing every day and continues to provide information about any other threats that might exist.

 

WNBC Jonathan Dienst

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