An Arrest in the Attempted Times Square Bombing
Now, the Justice Dept. will face pressure to announce a connection to international terrorism, if there was one
NBC News first reported that members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested a man named Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen of Pakistani descent, in connection with the bombing attempt in Times Square. Faisal was arrested by Customs and Border Protection agents at J.F.K. airport, where he was being shadowed by FBI agents. Attorney General Eric Holder said Shahzad was boarding a flight to Dubai.
"This investigation is ongoing, it is multifaceted and it is aggressive," Holder said. "It's clear that the intent behind this terrorist act was to kill Americans."
The American people, Holder said, should "remain vigilant." Holder said that investigators would seek "intelligence" from the suspect, suggesting that he would be interrogated before being read his Miranda rights under an exemption that allows law enforcement to withhold its administration if they suspect that the person could provide information on an imminent threat. (The FBI was criticized for Mirandizing the Christmas Day bombing suspect too quickly, although there is no evidence that actionable intelligence couldn't be gathered because of it.) Also not clear is whether the FBI's High-Value Interrogation Group (HIG) will be involved.
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 a.m. 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 a.m. ET, officials began to confirm that an arrest had been made between 11:30 p.m. 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 recalled selling the vehicle to another man over Craigslist. 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.
The Justice Department will face intense pressure to announce how and when and where they plan to try Shahzad. It may depend on the nature of the plot and whether it was hatched overseas, or whether it was endogenous. The department has plenty of time to decide what to do, and it's not likely they will announce their plans before they know for sure where and how they plan to try Shahzad.
Unknown at this point: what Shahzad did for a living ... where he obtained the money to buy the car ... who helped him (if anyone) ... where he purchased the explosives ... the motive.
The moment-by-moment case file opened by the Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation was fairly closely held, and only a few officials were made privy to the full details in fear that they would prematurely leak -- which they ultimately did, although, apparently, without consequence.