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'In the eyes of terrorists, New York is America'

May 18, 2010 22:31 IST

United States Attorney Preet Bharara's office has charged Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani American arrested for allegedly driving a car bomb into Times Square May 1, with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, and other federal crimes.

The charge of use of weapon of mass destruction carries a maximum sentence of life in prison; one count of acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries carries a maximum sentence of life in prison; one count of use of a destructive device in connection with a crime of violence carries a consecutive mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison; one count of transporting and receiving explosives carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; and one count of damaging and destroying property by means of fire and explosives carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Shahzad, 30, lived in Shelton, Connecticut. He was taken into custody — after a nationwide search — at John F Kennedy international airport May 3. He was in an Emirates plane bound for Dubai. The plane was brought back to the terminal and he was arrested. Two others also were detained, because their names were similar. 

The complaint filed in the Manhattan federal court describes the sequence of the events. In April, Shahzad contacted the owner of a 1992 Nissan Pathfinder after seeing an online advertisement. They met at a parking lot. Shahzad paid $1,300 in cash for the vehicle and drove away, leaving his Izuzu Rodeo jeep in the parking lot.

May 1 evening, a Saturday, a T-shirt vendor on Times Square found a Pathfinder abandoned, running idle, smoke emanating from it. He informed a mounted patrolman. Soon more police officers arrived and the area was evacuated. When emergency services workers arrived on the scene, the Pathfinder was engulfed in smoke. It took hours to dismantle the crude bomb, made of multiple filled propane tanks, gasoline canisters, and fertilizer as well as fireworks, clocks and wiring. The officers found keys, including a key to an Isuzu and another one for a home.

The police contacted the Pathfinder's original owner. He had sold it to another person, who posted the advertisement. The police zeroed in on Shahzad with other leads. The seller recognized Shahzad's photo. The officials put his name on a no fly-list at noon, May 3. But it seemed that the flight officials did not check the latest advisory for the no-fly list.

The investigation found that Shahzad used a prepaid cellular telephone to contact the seller of the vehicle. He also used that to call a fireworks store in Pennsylvania and to receive a series of calls from Pakistan following his purchase of the Pathfinder.After the arrest, he claimed he acted alone. He said he had recently received bomb-making training in Waziristan, Pakistan. He informed about the car in which he traveled to JFK and said it contained a gun. Law enforcement officers then identified the car and located a gun inside.

Bharara thanked the alert Americans who first sounded the alarm.

"As a result of a lot of good old-fashioned police work, that smoking car turned into the smoking gun that led to the capture of Faisal Shahzad, who allegedly put a bullseye on Times Square, which lies at the heart of our city and the crossroads of the world," he said. "This fast-breaking investigation shows the paramount importance of ordinary people being vigilant while going about their lives," said FBI Special Agent-in-Charge George Venizelos.

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, "I also want to commend United States Attorney Preet Bharara and his able assistants. They worked closely with the NYPD, not only in this case, but in prosecuting many others to make certain that criminals in the Southern District of New York face justice."

Kelly added: "The NYPD bomb squad risked their lives to dismantle a lethal assembly that turned the Pathfinder into one big hurt locker. While we can all breath a little easier, we have to stay vigilant. Because in the eyes of terrorists, New York is America, and they keep coming back to kill us."

George Joseph in New York