June 22, 2010
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 1:20 p.m. ET
ISLAMABAD (AP) -- The Pakistani-American who pleaded guilty to trying to bomb Times Square was determined to strike the U.S. even before he received training by the Taliban, but his time spent with militants close to the Afghan border steeled his resolve further, alleged accomplices detained in Pakistan have told investigators.
Pakistani intelligence agencies are holding at least five suspects in connection with the attack.
Two of them have allegedly admitted to helping Faisal Shahzad reach Mir Ali town in North Waziristan, according to a Pakistani intelligence official involved in the case who provided details to The Associated Press on Tuesday. Pakistani intelligence does not allow operatives to be identified by name.
The official said American investigators, including those with the CIA, have been involved in interrogating the alleged accomplices, who were arrested in the days and weeks after the May 1 attempted attack in the heart of New York.
The suspects have not been charged and Pakistani officials have not confirmed their arrests on the record, something quite normal here. The powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency has been known to hold people for months if not years without trial, in violation of Pakistani law.
In a New York federal court Monday, Shahzad agreed to plead guilty to 10 terrorism and weapons counts without the benefit of a plea deal and with certainty he'd face life in prison. He told the court that he was a ''Muslim soldier'' and warned that the U.S. faces even more attacks unless it leaves Muslim lands alone.
Shahzad, 30, was brought up in Pakistan, where his father was an officer in the air force. He moved to the United States at the age of 18 to study, after which he held a steady white-collar job as a budget analyst for years. He became a U.S. citizen last year.
Shahzad said in court he sought and received five days' training in explosives in Waziristan before returning to the United States in February to pursue a one-man scheme to bring death and destruction to New York with funding from the Pakistani Taliban. The indictment said he received $5,000 in cash on Feb. 25 from an unnamed co-conspirator in Pakistan and $7,000 more on April 10, sent at the co-conspirator's direction.
Since Shahzad's arrest in the United States, Pakistani officials had said they had picked up around 12 people in connection with the attack, though stressed all were not necessarily suspects. The intelligence official said five were now being held.
The two men with strongest links to the plot are alleged to be Shoaib Mughal and Shahid Hussain, the official said. The men had confessed to traveling with Shahzad to the town of Mir Ali -- a hub for Pakistan and international militants -- using public transport, he said.
According to Mughal and Hussain, Shahzad was in Mir Ali for about two weeks after they dropped him off, the intelligence official said.
''Shahzad was very excited and motivated to inflict a big injury on America even before his training by the Taliban,'' the intelligence official quoted Mughal and Hussain as saying. ''After the training, he was very confident.''
Hussain's brother, Khalid Usman, said allegations of Hussain's involvement were ''rubbish.'' He said he had a wife, two children and a well paid job at a telecommunications company.
''How could he go to the Taliban, how could he be so insane to work with terrorists?'' Usman said.
North Waziristan is under effective control of Islamist militants. Over the past year, the Pakistani army has conducted large-scale operations in neighboring South Waziristan, but not in the North. Accounts that Shahzad traveled there and received training from the Pakistani Taliban will add to pressure on Islamabad to retake the area, something it has said it is no rush to do.
Shahzad told the New York court that he initially arrived in Pakistan in mid-2009, spending the first six months with his parents in the main northwest city of Peshawar while trying to figure out a way to reach the Pakistani Taliban.
He said he and a couple of friends traveled to Waziristan on Dec. 9. His training in making bombs lasted five days, but he was in the region 40 days, Shahzad told the court.
The intelligence official said investigators had evidence that Mughal has uploaded video and audio messages from the Pakistan Taliban, including two audio messages from the group's commander, Hakimullah Mehsud, that proved he was alive. There had been speculation he had been killed in a U.S. missile strike.
The other three suspects being questioned are Salman Ashraf, Ahmad Raza and Humbal Akhtar. The official alleged that all three had knowledge of Shahzad's plans.
The suspects have cooperated with the American investigators, the official said, adding there was no plans to fly them to the U.S. either for trial or questioning there.
Relatives of some of the men in custody complain that they have had no contact with them.
Rana Ashraf Khan, whose son, Salman Ashraf, was detained while driving to work, said he submitted a court petition for information about his son but has not received any. The authorities refuse even to confirm that his son has been detained, he said.
''The families have been made hostage. I don't know what is happening to these young guys. If somebody is dead, the mourning period lasts 40 days, but this is the 43rd day my son is missing,'' Khan said.
Associated Press Writer Sebastian Abbot in Islamabad contributed to this report.