How Did Shahzad Almost Get Away?

Times Square suspect freely boarded his flight to Dubai

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Roughly 48 hours after he set a car bomb to go off in Times Square, and 24 hours after U.S. authorities learned of his identity, Faisal Shahzad freely boarded an Emirates airline flight to Dubai. Officials stopped the flight before it could take off, pulling it back to the gate to arrest Shahzad. But how did he get so close to slipping away?

  • The FBI-Grocery Store Slip-Up  The New York Post's Bruce Golding recounts, "The 30-year-old suspect earlier had managed to slip FBI surveillance. Agents supposed to be tailing him in Bridgeport, Conn., Monday saw him leave a grocery store near his home at 3 p.m. and followed him but later lost him. The plan had been to arrest him at his apartment Monday evening."
  • The Lucky Break  The New York Times' Scott Shane reports, "Shahzad had evaded the surveillance effort and bought his ticket seven hours after his name went on the no-fly list. But the system gives security officials one more chance to stop a dangerous passenger. As is routine, when boarding was completed for the flight, Emirates Flight EK202, the final passenger manifest was sent to the National Targeting Center, operated in Virginia by Customs and Border Protection. There, at about 11 p.m., analysts discovered that Mr. Shahzad was on the no-fly list and had just boarded a plane. They sounded the alarm, and minutes later, with the jet still at the gate, its door was opened and agents came aboard and took Mr. Shahzad into custody."
  • Reveals 'Holes in Antiterror System'  The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung notes that, although officials succeeded in capturing him, "the fact remained that Faisal Shahzad was allegedly able to train with terrorists in Pakistan, return to the United States to assemble a car bomb in Connecticut and park it in Times Square without anyone in the nation's vast counterterrorism apparatus knowing anything about it."
  • ...Especially for Airlines  Eileen Sullivan and Matt Apuzzo of the Associated Press warn, "The night's events, gradually coming to light, underscored the flaws in the nation's aviation security system, which despite its technologies, lists and information sharing, often comes down to someone making a right call." Despite having both his name and Passport number placed on the no-fly list, Emirates airline failed to stop him when he bought his ticket.
  • Does 'No-Fly List' Work?  Legal blogger Stewart Baker contemplates, "I thought that was impressively fast work — roughly 8 hours from identification through designation, population to the computer system, and identification before takeoff.  But not so fast that it can’t be secondguessed, apparently.  The implicit criticism is that the no-fly list didn’t work, that Shahzad should not have been able to buy a ticket at all." Given the execution, "it seems as though the blame should fall on Emirates, not TSA."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.