A Pakistan-born U.S. citizen accused of driving a bomb-laden SUV into Times Square will face terrorism and weapons of mass destruction charges, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said today.
At a news conference this afternoon, Holder said, “it is clear that this was a terrorist plot aimed at killing Americans in one of the country’s busiest places.”
“Although this car bomb failed to detonate, this plot was a very serious attempt," he said.
Connecticut resident Faisal Shahzad, 30, is expected to appear in Manhattan federal court later Tuesday at a currently undetermined time to be presented on formal charges. (Read the full complaint against Faisal Shazdad.)
Holder said FBI and police were continuing Tuesday afternoon to question Shahzad, who has admitted to building the bomb and planting it in an SUV in Times Square. Authorities also want to know if he has undergone terror training, which isn't clear at this time, and whether he had any direct guidance in the foiled attack, which fizzled after an alert street vendor notified police of the suspicious vehicle.
Authorities say the bomb, though crude, could have caused significant damage and casualties. Among the slew of questions authorities have is whether that device was assembled at his Bridgeport home.
Shahzad was apprehended by Customs and Border Patrol agents shortly after midnight Tuesday at Terminal 4 of JFK airport. He was onboard Emirates flight 202 to Dubai and NBCNewYork learned today that the flight had already pushed back from the gate when officials became aware the suspect was on the flight.
Officials ordered the flight to return to the gate where Shahzad and a friend were removed, law enforcement sources said. Shahzad was taken into custody; the friend has been released.
Shahzad was on the federal "no fly" list, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
Sources say there was a 9mm gun found in Shahzad's car that was found parked in a lot at the airport.
Shahzad is a naturalized U.S. citizen who recently returned from a five-month trip to Pakistan, where he has a wife, law enforcement officials said.
Law enforcement officials in Washington, D.C., said Tuesday that Shahzad had attended a terror training camp in Pakistan. He was charged with terrorism.
In that country, intelligence officials said at least one man has been detained in the southern city of Karachi in connection with the Times Square case: a man named Tauseef who was a friend of Shahzad. He did not say when the man was picked up.
Another Pakistani official said several people had been taken into custody since the failed attack. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of their work.
Shahzad is the son of retired Air Vice Marshall Baharul Haq, a former top Pakistani air force officer and deputy director general of the civil aviation authority, according to Kifyat Ali, a cousin of Shahzad's father.
Ali spoke with reporters outside a two-story home in an upscale part of Peshawar, the main city in the northwest part of Pakistan, owned by the family.
Ali said the family had yet to be officially informed of Shahzad's arrest in the United States.
Ali called Shahzad's detention "a conspiracy so the (Americans) can bomb more Pashtuns." It was a reference to a major ethnic group in Peshawar and the nearby tribal areas of Pakistan and southwest Afghanistan.
He insisted that Shahzad "was never linked to any political or religious party here." He said Shahzad often stayed in Peshawar when he came back from the United States.
President Obama said today that authorities are investigating the suspect's possible connection to terrorist groups, and he thanked "ordinary citizens" for remaining vigilant and commended local, state and federal law enforcement for a seamless response.
He said the attack was "another sobering reminder of the time in which we live." "New Yorkers have reminded us again how to live with heads held high," President Obama said.
New York Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee said the plot demonstrates the need for more counterterrorism funding for New York City.
"New York City is the number one terror target in the world," he said. "That's why what Commissioner Kelly wants to do is secure the city's program to set up detection all around Manhattan is so important and why it was wrong for the president to cut off funding for that," King said on a telephone call with NBC New York.
Federal terrorism funding was first slashed to New York City by about 40-percent in 2006 under then President George W. Bush.
United States Attorney General Eric Holder took the unusual step of holding a news conference at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, saying that even though there has been an arrest, investigators from numerous federal and local law-enforcement agencies are still tracking down multiple leads.
"We continue to gather leads in this investigation and it is important that the American people remain vigilant," said Holder.
"I want to thank the men and women of the NYPD, the FBI, the US Attorney's Southern District of New York, Customs and Border Protection, and the many other agencies in New York, Washington and Connecticut whose focused and swift efforts led to this arrest after only 48 hours of around-the-clock investigation. I hope their impressive work serves as a lesson to anyone who would do us harm," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg said Tuesday following Shahzad's arrest that the city "will not tolerate any bias." He said that also applies to potential backlash against Muslim New Yorkers.
While acknowledging there are "a few bad apples'' among any groups, the mayor cited New York's long history of accepting cultures from the around the world.
Late Monday, New York police and FBI agents had narrowed their focus on Shahzad, who recently returned from a trip to Pakistan and three weeks ago bought the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder used in the failed car bomb on Saturday night.
Investigators say Shahzad's name was on an email that was sent to the seller of the SUV last month after they connected on Craigslist, but officials cannot definitively say whether he used his own email or whether someone else sent it from his account.
Authorities were in Bridgeport, Conn., Monday night into Tuesday searching what neighbors say is an apartment on Sheridan Street, and neighbors said they have seen investigators walk out of the apartment with several plastic bags. A bomb squad came and went without entering as local police and FBI agents gathered in the cordoned-off street.
The apartment is one of two where Shahzad lived. Shahzad also had a home in Shelton, but neighbors say he hasn't lived there for several months. Court records show that Shahzad defaulted on a $200,000 mortgage on his Shelton home and that the property is in foreclosure.
On Tuesday, new reports indicated a disposable cell phone number used by the buyer in the Craigslist sale helped FBI agents track down Shahzad. The suspect no longer had the phone in his possession, according to Politico, and the process by which authorities used the number to identify him wasn't immediately clear.
“They were able to basically get one phone number and by running it through a number of databases, figure out who they thought the guy was,” a senior official told Politico.
Even if Shahzad did use his own email account or a disposable phone in connection with the sale, and is the person who bought the car, investigators don't know whether he is also the man who drove it into Times Square Saturday evening.
Nonetheless, he is the strongest lead yet.
The FBI has checked his records and found repeated contacts overseas, but they cannot say whether those are innocent or somehow related to the bombing attempt.
It was a Vehicle Identification Number in the car's engine that led investigators to the former owner, who was the last person on record to be officially associated with the SUV.
The car bomb was a rough concoction of ordinary items - fireworks, fuel and fertilizer - that authorities suspect was meant to cause maximum mayhem in the heart of Times Square. But it was enough to fray nerves and set off a frenzied probe in what the NYPD called the most serious car bomb plot in the city since the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, in which six people were killed and more than 1,000 injured.
"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. We will not rest until every terrorist, whether homegrown or foreign-based, is neutralized and held to account," said United States Attorney Preet Bharara, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge George Venizelos, and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly in a joint statement.
Materials gathered at the scene is being sent to FBI labs in Quantico, VA for forensic analysis, Kelly said.
The Pakistani Taliban appeared to claim responsibility for the car bomb in three videos that surfaced after the weekend scare, monitoring groups said. Kelly said police have no evidence to support the claims and noted that the same group had falsely taken credit for previous attacks on U.S. soil.
Despite the attempt to instill fear, Times Square sprung back to life.
"This is America. This is what we do," said Earl Morriss of Seattle, who was sightseeing. "Nobody is going to stop us from living our lives and doing what we want to do."
Gov. David Paterson said, "Without the quick response of vigilant New Yorkers, and the hard work of our men and women in law enforcement, an arrest in just over 48 hours would not have been possible. I would like to commend all those who have worked swiftly to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers and all Americans, and thank them for their continued efforts to bring those responsible for this act to justice."