A Pakistan-born U.S. citizen accused of driving a bomb-laden SUV into Times Square and parking it on a street lined with restaurants and Broadway theaters was to appear in court Tuesday to face charges that he tried to set off a massive fireball and kill Americans, federal authorities said.
The suspect, Faisal Shahzad, was taken into custody late Monday by FBI agents and New York Police Department detectives at Kennedy Airport while trying to board a flight to Dubai, according to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and other officials. He was identified by customs agents and stopped before boarding, Holder said early Tuesday in Washington.
Shahzad is a naturalized U.S. citizen and had recently returned from a five-month trip to Pakistan, where he had a wife, according to law enforcement officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation into the failed car bombing.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan was handling the case and said Shahzad would appear in court Tuesday, but the charges were not made public. FBI agents searched the home at a known address for Shahzad in Bridgeport, Conn., early Tuesday, said agent Kimberly Mertz, who wouldn’t answer questions about the search.
Authorities removed filled plastic bags from the house overnight in a mixed-race, working-class neighborhood of multi-family homes in Connecticut’s largest city. A bomb squad came and went without entering as local police and FBI agents gathered in the cordoned-off street.
Shahzad was being held in New York overnight and couldn’t be contacted. A phone number at a listed address for Shahzad in Shelton, Conn., wasn’t in service.
Law enforcement officials say Shahzad bought the SUV, a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder, from a Connecticut man about three weeks ago and paid cash. The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.
The vehicle identification number had been removed from the Pathfinder’s dashboard, but it was stamped on the engine, and investigators used it to find the owner of record, who told them he had sold the vehicle to a stranger.
As the SUV buyer came into focus, investigators backed off other leads, although Holder said U.S. authorities “will not rest until we have brought everyone responsible to justice,” suggesting additional suspects are being sought.
The SUV was parked on Saturday night on a busy midtown Manhattan street near a theater showing “The Lion King.” The explosive device inside it had cheap-looking alarm clocks connected to a 16-ounce can filled with fireworks, which were apparently intended to detonate gas cans and set propane tanks afire in a chain reaction “to cause mayhem, to create casualties,” police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
A metal rifle cabinet placed in the SUV’s cargo area was packed with fertilizer, but NYPD bomb experts believe it was not a type volatile enough to explode like the ammonium nitrate grade fertilizer used in previous terrorist bombings.
Police said the SUV bomb could have produced “a significant fireball” and sprayed shrapnel with enough force to kill pedestrians and knock out windows.
A vendor alerted a police officer to the parked SUV, which was smoking. Times Square, clogged with tourists on a warm evening, was shut down for 10 hours. A bomb squad dismantled the explosive device, and no one was hurt.
But Holder said Americans should remain vigilant.
“It’s clear,” he said, “that the intent behind this terrorist act was to kill Americans.”
In Pakistan, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said authorities had not been formally asked for help in the probe.
“When the request comes, we will cooperate with the U.S. government,” he told the AP.
The Pakistani Taliban appeared to claim responsibility in videos that surfaced after the weekend scare, monitoring groups said, but police had no evidence to support the claims.
More than a dozen people with American citizenship or residency, like Shahzad, have been accused in the past two years of supporting or carrying out terrorism attempts on U.S. soil, cases that illustrate the threat of violent extremism from within the U.S.
Among them are Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, a U.S.-born Army psychiatrist of Palestinian descent, charged with fatally shooting 13 people last year at Fort Hood, Texas; Najibullah Zazi, a Denver-area airport shuttle driver who pleaded guilty in February in a plot to bomb New York subways; and a Pennsylvania woman who authorities say became radicalized online as “Jihad Jane” and plotted to kill a Swedish artist whose work offended Muslims.
AP Video journalist Ted Shaffrey in Bridgeport and Associated Press writer Chris Brummitt in Islamabad contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press