Like some of al Qaeda’s most notorious members, the Pakistani-American charged in connection with the botched bomb in New York’s Times Square comes from a respectable background that provides no hints of radicalism.
Faisal Shahzad, a naturalised American, has admitted to trying to detonate the bomb in a sports utility vehicle and receiving explosives-making training in a known Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold in Pakistan, US prosecutors say.
On the surface, he bears no resemblance to the many impoverished Pakistani men who have been lured to the Taliban by promises of holy war and martyrdom.
Shahzad, a former financial analyst who worked in the US state of Connecticut, is the son of a retired vice air marshal, affording him a special status in Pakistan, where the military is the most powerful and influential institution.
He is married with two children, sources said, with his wife and children living somewhere in Pakistan. He had a job in Karachi some years ago and still carries a residency card from the metropolis. He recently visited the area with his family to attend a wedding, local media reported.
The case points to what could be a new threat to US security: Pakistani immigrants attracted to militancy who move back and forth between the two countries, a phenomenon that British authorities have had to contend with.
Suicide bomb attacks in London by four British Islamists on July 7, 2005, killed 52 people and wounded about 700. Shahzad’s father, Bahar-ul-Haq, hurriedly vacated the family home in Peshawar late on Tuesday to avoid attention, according to Pakistan’s the News newspaper.
Witnesses said he packed some belongings in a vehicle and left with family members, it said.
Shahzad’s family is from the northwestern farming village of Mohin Banda, home to 5000 people, in the Pabbi district. A tiny, dusty road from a nearby highway named after a soldier who was killed in fighting against the Taliban in 2007, snakes through fields of wheat, maize and rice crops to the village.
Residents expressed disbelief on learning of Shahzad’s involvement in the bombing attempt.
“This is our son,” retired school teacher Nazirullah Khan told Reuters by telephone. “I recognised him. Last time when I met him, he didn’t have a beard. I attended his wedding.”
New York court documents said Shahzad returned to the United States on February 3 on a one-way ticket from Pakistan, where he had spent the last five months visiting his parents.
His brother is a mechanical engineer in Canada, Pakistani security officials said.
The United States and Pakistan will now try to study Shahzad’s path to Times Square, how he ended up in a militant training camp in Pakistan and which group influenced him, information they hope will help prevent future attacks.
Security officials say Shahzad’s parents resided in Peshawar, the city hit hardest by Pakistani Taliban suicide bombings. They said Shahzad also has a residency identification card from the commercial hub of Karachi.
Yesterday in Karachi, Pakistan detained several associates of Shahzad, including friends and members of his extended family, officials said.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Shahzad’s family “are on our radar.” “He is not from a radical or illiterate family. He is from an educated family. We are looking into how he got radicalised,” he told Reuters.
But there are plenty of examples of people with a respectable past who turned to jihad — al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden hails from Saudi Arabia’s elite, his Egyptian deputy Ayman al-Zawahri was born into an upper-class family of doctors and scholars in an upscale Cairo neighbourhood, and Mohammed Atta, leader of the 9/11 hijackers, enrolled as a graduate student of urban planning at a technical university in Germany.
Aside from struggling against a Taliban insurgency, Pakistan also faces threats from foreign would-be jihadis trying to link up with Pakistani militants through the Internet.
In March, a Pakistani court formally charged five young Americans of plotting terrorism in the country.
The students, in their 20s and from the U.S. state of Virginia, were detained in December in the town of Sargodha, 190 km (120 miles) southeast of Islamabad.
Pakistan, a US ally, has in the past nurtured militant groups to fight in Indian-controlled Kashmir and mujahideen to fight Soviet occupation troops in Afghanistan.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Pakistan, under enormous American pressure, joined the US war on terror, although questions have arisen about its level of commitment.
Pic: Faisal Shahzad