(Reuters) – A Pakistani-American accused of driving a car bomb into New York’s Times Square will be charged with an act of terrorism, U.S. authorities said on Tuesday as Pakistan arrested several relatives of the man.
Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, told authorities he acted alone in Saturday’s failed bombing, but skeptical investigators are looking into his recent trip to Pakistan, a U.S. law enforcement source said.
Shahzad, 30, was arrested late on Monday night after he was taken off an Emirates airline plane that was about to take off for Dubai. Hours later, several relatives and a friend were arrested in Pakistan.
“We have picked up a few family members” related to Shahzad, a security official in Karachi said. A friend of Shahzad was also detained.
Shahzad is from the disputed Kashmiri region but it is not known if he was affiliated with any militant group, a source familiar with the investigation said. The source asked not to be named because the issue is sensitive.
“Which group he may have belonged to and how he became radicalized, we don’t know yet,” said the source.
Although markets shrugged off the New York car bomb attempt as a one-off situation, tensions are high among investors. News that police in London closed a subway station to investigate reports of a suspect package pushed U.S. stock index futures to session lows before the market opened on Tuesday.
Shahzad was due to appear in federal court later on Tuesday and would likely be charged with an act of terrorism and the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction among other offenses, Holder said. Had the bomb detonated, many people could have died, experts said.
“He’s admitted to buying the truck, putting the devices together, putting them in the truck, leaving the truck there and leaving the scene,” the law enforcement source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. “He’s claimed to have acted alone.
SUSPECT GIVES INFORMATION
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Shahzad has provided investigators with useful information, but declined to discuss specifics at a news conference in Washington.
“It is clear that this was a terrorist plot aimed at murdering Americans in one of the busiest places in our country,” Holder said. “If successful it could have resulted in a lethal terrorist attack, causing death and destruction.”
New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said it was the 11th thwarted attack on New York City since September 11, 2001.
President Barack Obama said the investigation would seek to determine if the suspect in custody had any connection with foreign extremist groups.
The Taliban in Pakistan claimed responsibility for the plot though several officials voiced scepticism about the claim.
If links were found between the failed bombing and Pakistan’s Taliban, which claimed responsibility for it, Pakistan could come under renewed U.S. pressure to open risky new fronts against Islamic militants.
Shahzad and two others were arrested on board the plane after it had pulled away from the gate and was recalled, but the other two were cleared and allowed to travel, the Emirates airline said.
“Clearly the guy was on the plane and shouldn’t have been and we got very lucky,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a news conference. However, Holder said Shahzad was being tracked and there was no danger of losing him.
Shahzad, who became a U.S. citizen last year, recently visited Pakistan for about five months, returning to the United States in February, the U.S. law enforcement source said.
“Based on our collective experience it’s hard to really believe that this is something someone would do on their own. It seems hard to pull off alone. There’s a lot we don’t know yet,” the source said.
Shahzad worked for about three years as a junior financial analyst in the Norwalk, Connecticut, office of the Affinion Group, a marketing and consulting business, the company said on Tuesday. Shahzad worked there until June 2009.
Shahzad is suspected of buying a 1993 Nissan sport utility vehicle used to carry the crude bomb, made of fuel and fireworks, into Times Square as the theatre and shopping area was packed with people on a warm Saturday evening.
Authorities searched Shahzad’s home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the FBI said on Tuesday. An FBI spokeswoman did not say what authorities had found.
Saturday’s failed bombing was the second significant plot in nine months targeting New York City. An Afghan immigrant, Najibullah Zazi, has pleaded guilty to plotting a suicide bombing campaign on Manhattan’s subway system last September.
U.S. authorities disrupted that plot before Zazi and his accused accomplices were able to carry it out. Another Afghan-born man has pleaded guilty for his role in the plot.
Zazi admitted to receiving al Qaeda training in Pakistan.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Jeremy Pelofsky, Jeff Mason, JoAnne Allen and Will Dunham in Washington; and William Maclean in London; Editing by Anthony Boadle)