Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Guilty Plea in Times Square Bomb Plot

June 21, 2010, The New York Times, By BENJAMIN WEISER

The suspect in the failed Times Square bombing pleaded guilty on Monday, an abrupt and expedited end to a terrorism case that extended to Pakistan and an Islamic militant group there.

The defendant, Faisal Shahzad, 30, listened as each of 10 counts was read to him in Federal District Court in Manhattan, and indicated he understood the charges and penalties he faced.

Mr. Shahzad recounted how and why he conceived the plot, traveling to Pakistan last year, joining the Taliban and receiving training in how to construct a bomb. And despite his admission of guilt and his extended cooperation with the authorities since his arrest, Mr. Shahzad was unapologetic, characterizing himself as “part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people.”

“I want to plead guilty, and I’m going to plead guilty 100 times over,” he said, “because until the hour the U.S. pulls its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, and stops the drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan, and stops the occupation of Muslim lands, and stops killing the Muslims, and stops reporting the Muslims to its government, we will be attacking U.S., and I plead guilty to that.”

The plea and Mr. Shahzad’s comments came four days after a federal grand jury returned an indictment that offered new details about the government’s accusations that Tehrik-i-Taliban, the umbrella organization for the Pakistani Taliban, had assisted Mr. Shahzad in his plot.

In court, he admitted receiving the training, saying he had gone to find the Taliban and learned how to build a bomb that he planned to detonate as part of his plan.

“With them, I did the training to wage an attack inside the United States of America,” Mr. Shahzad said.

“Any kind of attack?” Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum of Federal District Court asked.

“It would have been any kind of attack,” Mr. Shahzad said, “but I was given bomb training, and that’s what I learned there.”

Wearing a white head covering, Mr. Shahzad stood for more than half an hour answering the judge’s questions about his motivations, his background and even his family. “I had a wife and two beautiful kids,” he said, adding that they had returned to Pakistan to be with his parents.

And it was seemingly with equanimity that Mr. Shahzad spoke of his plan to detonate a car bomb in New York City. “I chose the center of Times Square,” he explained.

“Were there a lot of people in the street?” Judge Cedarbaum asked. “Yes,” Mr. Shahzad replied. “Obviously the time, it was evening, and obviously it was a Saturday, so that’s the time I chose.”

“You wanted to injure a lot of people?” the judge asked.

Mr. Shahzad said that he had, that he wanted “to injure people or kill people.”

But he said “one has to understand where I’m coming from.” He said that he considered himself “a Muslim soldier,” and that United States and NATO forces had attacked Muslim lands.

Judge Cedarbaum interjected: “But not the people who were walking in Times Square that night. Did you look around to see who they were?”

Mr. Shahzad replied, “Well, the people select the government; we consider them all the same.”

“Including the children?” the judge asked.

“Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Mr. Shahzad replied, “they don’t see children; they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children. They kill everybody. It’s a war. And in war, they kill people. They’re killing all Muslims.”

The guilty plea was consistent with Mr. Shahzad’s behavior since his May 3 arrest, when the authorities say he began cooperating with them for more than two weeks without counsel and waived his Miranda rights. One question was whether Mr. Shahzad would seek leniency in sentencing in return for his assistance.

The answer seemed to come after the hearing, when the United States attorney, Preet Bharara, released a letter that had been sent to Mr. Shahzad’s lawyers. It made clear that there was no plea deal, and that in choosing to plead guilty to all 10 counts, Mr. Shahzad faced a mandatory life term, the maximum sentence for which he is eligible.

“Faisal Shahzad plotted and launched an attack that could have led to serious loss of life,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said, “and today the American criminal justice system ensured that he will pay the price for his actions.”

Mr. Bharara said the investigation was continuing; his office refused to comment on whether Mr. Shahzad was continuing to cooperate.

Judge Cedarbaum scheduled the sentencing for Oct. 5. Mr. Shahzad’s lawyer, Philip L. Weinstein, had no comment.

Mr. Shahzad’s plea came on a day when he was to be arraigned on the recent indictment. But when the hearing began at midday, Mr. Weinstein and a prosecutor, Brendan R. McGuire, left for about 15 minutes for a meeting with Judge Cedarbaum. The judge then returned and announced that the parties had asked that the hearing be delayed until later that day.

When court resumed just after 4:30, it quickly became clear that Mr. Shahzad would plead guilty.

The judge told him that the first charge he faced was attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. How do you plead? the judge asked.

“I do plead guilty to this charge,” Mr. Shahzad said.

“I gather you want to plead guilty to all of them,” the judge said later.

“Yes,” Mr. Shahzad said.

Throughout the session, Mr. Shahzad did not raise his voice and answered the judge’s questions straightforwardly. There were also no outbursts from the spectators. At one point, Mr. Shahzad said he wanted to read “a small statement,” but Judge Cedarbaum told him to wait.

When he tried again later, she said: “Please, don’t read it. I want to know what happened. Tell me what you did.”

Mr. Shahzad said he became an American citizen last spring and left for Pakistan in June. He spent six months with family in Peshawar, he said, and left in December with a couple of friends to join the Taliban in Waziristan. He was there for 40 days, and he said he spent 5 days receiving bomb training from Tehrik-i-Taliban. It was there that he developed his bomb plot, he said. “I made a pact with them,” he said.

He returned to the United States in February, he said, carrying about $8,000 in cash, half from the Taliban. Later he needed more money, he said, adding, “They sent it to me twice,” once in March and once in April.

Mr. Shahzad described building three explosive devices in his home in Bridgeport, Conn., and placing them inside the Nissan Pathfinder that he later drove to Times Square. He said the main component of the device was a fertilizer-based bomb held in a gun cabinet in the Pathfinder’s trunk. If that bomb did not work, his plans were to detonate propane gas cylinders and to start a fire in the car with gasoline.

He set the device to explode in about five minutes, he said, and then walked away. The bombs did not go off.

“And I don’t know the reason why,” Mr. Shahzad said. “I was waiting to hear a sound, but I couldn’t hear any sound, so I thought it probably didn’t go off. So I just walked to the Grand Central and went home.”

Colin Moynihan contributed reporting.

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