A Pakistani-born American citizen defiantly pleaded guilty to attempting to set off a car bomb in New York’s Times Square, saying that Islamist extremists would continue to attack the United States.
Faisal Shahzad, 30, admitted travelling to Pakistan to receive bomb-making training from the Pakistani Taliban, called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, and receiving $12 000 (£8 128) from the group to carry out the failed plot on May 1.
Shahzad, who has a wife and two children living in Pakistan, pleaded guilty to 10 charges, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted terrorism transcending national borders. He faces mandatory life in prison.
“I’m going to plead guilty 100 times over,” Shahzad told the court. Until the United States stops drone aircraft attacks and the occupation of “Muslim lands,” Shahzad said “we will be attacking the United States and I plead guilty to that.”
“One has to understand where I’m coming from,” Shahzad said in a long speech frequently interrupted by US District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum seeking clarification. “I consider myself a Mujahid, a Muslim-soldier.”
He said his intention was to do “damage to the building, injure the people or kill the people.”
Shahzad awkwardly parked a sports utility vehicle in Times Square with its engine running and hazard lights flashing on a balmy Saturday evening last month. “I ignited the fuses and I gave the time of 2.5 to 5 minutes and I left the car,” Shahzad told the court. “I was waiting to hear a sound.”
But street vendors alerted police to the smoking vehicle within minutes and thousands of people were evacuated from the popular theatre district. A bomb squad diffused the crude device, which included firecrackers and propane gas tanks.
The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing. CIA-operated drone aircraft have targeted Taliban figures in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the group has vowed to avenge missile strikes that have killed some of its leaders.
But Shahzad said the militants did not tell him how or what to attack in the United States. “I got the cash, I worked on it, I made the bomb, and I drove it to Times Square,” he said. Shahzad said he worked alone on the plot in the United States.
New York alert to home-grown terrorism
Wearing a white prayer cap and handcuffed, Shahzad, who lived in the neighbouring state of Connecticut and became a US citizen last year, was arraigned in a packed courtroom in Manhattan federal court.
“Faisal Shahzad plotted and launched an attack that could have led to serious loss of life,” US Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “We will not rest in bringing to justice terrorists who seek to harm the American people, and we will use every tool available to the government to do so.”
Shahzad told the court that after parking the vehicle in Times Square he walked to Grand Central station in Midtown Manhattan, carrying a 9-mm rifle in a laptop case, and took a train back to Connecticut. He said the gun was for self defence, “just in case I was attacked, I was captured.”
Shahzad, the son of a retired Pakistani vice air marshal, was arrested aboard a Dubai-bound jetliner at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport two days after the attempted attack. He had been on his way back to Pakistan.
He cooperated with authorities after his arrest, officials have said. He voluntarily waived his US constitutional legal rights, which include access to a lawyer, every day for the two weeks he was held before his initial court appearance and then agreed to 20-day delay before he was formally indicted.
The issue of extending terrorism suspects the same rights as criminal defendants has been the subject of much political debate in the United States. Conservative opponents of President Barack Obama say they should be treated as enemy combatants and denied rights in order to collect intelligence.
US Attorney Preet Bharara said that there was no plea agreement between the government and Shahzad and that the investigation is continuing. Shahzad is due to be sentenced on October 5.
Shahzad, a former budget analyst who worked for a marketing firm in Connecticut, came from a relatively privileged background that offered no hints of radicalism. He returned to the United States earlier this year after spending several months in Pakistan.
Several people have been arrested in Pakistan in the case and US authorities carried out raids in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maine, detaining several people on immigration charges.
“We remain alert to and concerned by the threat of home grown terrorism aimed at New York City,” New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement.
Pic: Faisal Shahzad