A Pakistani man believed to be the driver of an SUV used as a car bomb in a failed terror attack on Times Square was taken into custody early Tuesday by federal and local police officials while trying to leave the country.
The suspect, Faisal Shahzad, was identified by customs agents at John F. Kennedy International Airport and was stopped before boarding an Emirates airlines flight to Dubai, Attorney General Eric Holder said. Shahzad had recently returned from a five-month trip to Pakistan, where he had a wife.
He was being held in New York and couldn’t be contacted. He has a Shelton, Conn., address; a phone number listed there 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.
Statement from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder:
Earlier this evening, Faisal Shahzad was arrested in connection with the attempted car bombing in New York on Saturday. Mr. Shahzad, an American citizen, was taken into custody at JFK Airport in New York as he attempted to board a flight to Dubai.
Since this plot was first uncovered on Saturday night, the FBI, prosecutors and intelligence lawyers in the National Security Division of the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorneys Offices in Manhattan and Connecticut, along with the NYPD have worked night and day to find out who was responsible for what would have been a deadly attack had it been successful. Over the course of the day today, we have gathered significant additional evidence that led to tonight’s arrest, which was made by agents from Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection.
This investigation is ongoing, as are our attempts to gather useful intelligence, and we continue to pursue a number of leads. But it’s clear that the intent behind this terrorist act was to kill Americans.
FBI agents are working with their state and local counterparts in New York, Connecticut and other jurisdictions to gather evidence and intelligence related to this case. We are also coordinating with other members of the President’s national security team to ensure we use every resource available to the United States to bring anyone responsible to justice.
We continue to gather leads in this investigation, and it’s important that the American people remain vigilant. The vehicle in Times Square was first noticed on Saturday by a citizen who reported it to authorities, and, as always, any American who notices suspicious activity should report it to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.
This investigation is ongoing, it is multi-faceted, and it is aggressive. As we move forward, we will focus on not just holding those responsible for it accountable, but also on obtaining any intelligence about terrorist organizations overseas.
Because of the fast-moving nature of this investigation, I am not able to make any further information public at this time. But the American people should know that we are deploying every resource available, and we will not rest until we have brought everyone responsible to justice.
Additional Details from the Atlantic
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York said that Shazad will appear in federal court in Manhattan on Pearl Street today.
The Justice Department had notified a network pool that an announcement would be made at 1:00 am ET and asked networks not to report the fact of the announcement, whatever it would be. An official later told me that the lives of FBI agents would be placed in danger if news leaked that an arrest was imminent.
At about 12:30 am ET, officials began to confirm that an arrest had been made between 11:30 pm and midnight. CNN reported that it was asked by the government not to identify Shahzad by name until Holder made his announcement, but by that point, the New York Times, the Associated Press and several other news organizations had named Shahzad.
How was Shahzad tracked? As noted in The Night Beat, investigators traced a vehicle identification number back to the Pathfinder’s original owner in Connecticut. The person’s recalled selling the vehicle to another man over Craiglist. The transaction was made in the parking lot of a shopping center a week ago. The man’s e-mail was traced back to Shahzad.
There is also independent evidence linking Shahzad to the car itself, although the nature of that evidence was not disclosed. Also not apparent to investigators is whether Shahzad had contact with anyone connected to terrorism.
Shahzad will be brought before a judge this morning. Charges are unclear at this point. It is unknown whether investigators believe that Shahzad acted in concert with accomplices. Officials believe that the sloppy tradecraft practiced by the plotters suggested that the terrorist attempt was hastily conceived. Still, given the shaved-off dashboard vehicle identification number and the stolen license plate, there was obviously some thought given to the idea.