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Officials search Connecticut apartment of Times Square bomb suspect

Faisal Shahzad, arrested overnight as he tried to leave the U.S., is due in court Tuesday. U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder indicates more arrests are possible.

May 05, 2010|By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from New York —

Investigators on Tuesday were combing through the Connecticut apartment recently occupied by a Pakistani-born man accused of driving an SUV rigged to explode into the heart of Times Square and arrested as he tried to flee the country overnight.

The man, Faisal Shahzad, 30, was due in court Tuesday, but it was not clear what charges he would face. Shahzad was arrested about midnight EDT as he tried to leave the United States on a flight bound for Dubai. The flight was on the runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport and was minutes from takeoff when it suddenly returned to the gate, passengers who were on board said. One of them, Mark Sutherland of South Africa, said there had been nothing unusual on the flight up until then.

In the working-class neighborhood of Shelton, Conn., north of New York City, where Shahzad had lived for several years, neighbor Brenda Thurman said Shahzad had a wife and two children and stayed to himself. "He didn't like to come out during the day," Thurman told The Associated Press. She said Shahzad told her husband he had a job on Wall Street, but that the Shahzad family left the home a few months ago after it fell into foreclosure.

From there, Shahzad apparently moved to nearby Bridgeport, where FBI agents early Tuesday began searching a building in which he had an apartment, looking for clues to determine if Shahzad had links to international or domestic terrorist organizations.

At an early-morning news briefing shortly after Shahzad's arrest, U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. indicated more arrests would be made in the case, which erupted Saturday evening when vendors noticed a suspicious vehicle left idling on a busy Times Square corner, its keys in the ignition. Investigators linked Shahzad to the case after learning that he had recently purchased the SUV from its previous owner.

"This investigation is ongoing. It is multifaceted," Holder said. "We will not rest until we have brought everyone responsible to justice." He described the failed bombing as a "terrorist act" intended to kill Americans.

An official in Washington who could not be identified because of the sensitivity of the case said the amount of material inside the car bomb suggested it was the work of at least two people. The components included about 100 pounds of fertilizer as well as a large metal gun box, firecrackers, cans of gasoline and three propane tanks, which would have been difficult for just one person to pack into the SUV, especially in secret, the official said. However, the official described the work as "done with little sophistication" and noted that if the perpetrator had been part of a Middle Eastern terrorist group, the planned attack likely would have been a suicide bombing. Instead, the would-be bomber simply left the vehicle by the curb and walked away.

The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the incident, but administration officials, including Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, insisted Monday it was too early to draw any conclusions as to the legitimacy of the claim. "No leads are being discarded," Napolitano said, but she added, "This is an open investigation that really is in its beginning stages."

Despite the murkiness of the situation, New Yorkers seemed unfazed by the developments as they returned to work Monday. New Yorkers regard terror threats much the way Californians look at earthquakes: They know another one is coming and they prepare as best they can, but they get on with life.

Take Danny Pugliese and Bobby Marshall, construction workers who had plunked down their lunches at a table in front of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. Pugliese, 35, and Marshall, 39, said they hadn't thought much about the incident over the weekend. Marshall said he and his family had driven from Long Island to Yonkers to attend the christening of Pugliese's third child.

"If anything, the economy was more of a topic," Pugliese said.

They had talked Monday about the potential of a car bombing in the city, but only briefly. Both electrical workers who specialize in elevators, they had vivid memories of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"Before 9/11 you saw something funny and you walked by it," Marshall said. "Now you look and you wonder and you think twice. It's just part of the city now."

It was, in fact, two Times Square street vendors who first noticed the suspicious SUV and alerted police.

Marshall said it showed that the city's post-9/11 campaign that urges people to "say something" if they see something suspicious had worked. Pugliese was not convinced. He said it was the would-be bomber's ineptitude that saved the day. "He was an amateur, and his bomb messed up. We were lucky. Again," he said.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said the car bomb, made of easily purchased items, including alarm clocks and gasoline, could have sent a "significant fireball" hurtling through one of the world's busiest tourist spots.

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