Federal agents chasing the trail of funding for Times Square bomb suspect Faisal Shahzad arrested three people on immigration charges in a series of raids across the northeastern U.S., law enforcement officials said.
Investigators in today’s sweep were looking at how Shahzad, who was unemployed and had lost his home in foreclosure when he parked a bomb-laden car in Manhattan on May 1, got the money for the plot, said a person familiar with the investigation who requested anonymity. The homemade bomb failed to explode.
“These searches are the product of evidence that has been gathered in the investigation since the attempted Times Square bombing and do not relate to any known new threat,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the House Judiciary Committee today.
Shahzad was funded and directed by a Taliban group based in Pakistan, Holder said last week. The person close to the investigation said authorities were looking at a hawala, an informal Islamic money-transferring network that may have been used to send small amounts of cash to Shahzad, enabling him to pay for the bombing attempt.
Shahzad was arrested May 3 aboard a flight to Dubai on a runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Authorities said he admitted to parking a Nissan Pathfinder filled with firecrackers, gasoline canisters, propane tanks and bags of fertilizer in Times Square.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is prosecuting Shahzad’s case, said today authorities continue to interview Shahzad. Shahzad, who was charged in a criminal complaint filed May 4, hasn’t been presented to a judge for an initial court appearance.
“Faisal Shahzad is still cooperating and still being interviewed by agents,” the New York Times quoted Bharara as saying at a news conference on an unrelated criminal case in White Plains, New York.
Bharara said agents and detectives from the Joint Terrorism Task Force “are still getting all the information we can in regard to any and all associates he may have.”
“Mr. Shahzad will be brought to court at the appropriate time,” the Times quoted Bharara as saying.
“We are doing exactly what, I think, people want us to do, and that is to make sure we get all the information we can with respect to any associates he may have, and other information that would help us to prevent anything further from happening in the United States,” the Associated Press quoted the prosecutor as saying.
Hawala networks are used throughout the Islamic world to transfer cash, usually in small amounts and usually for little or no fee, said Charles Grice, managing director of CRI Compliance, a New York-based company that consults with banks on combating money laundering.
It’s unlikely that the people who gave Shahzad money in the U.S. knew what he would use it for, Grice said. The hawala branch where the money came from, presumably in Pakistan, would most likely not be able to identify a Taliban operative who may have deposited the funds, he said.
“What we probably have here is Shahzad is naming people who did the equivalent of cashing checks for him,” said Grice. “But you have to be hard-pressed to imagine these people knew what they were doing.”
Boston and Portland
The raids took place in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maine and Long Island, New York. Two men were detained near Boston, said Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington.
A third was arrested in Portland, Maine, the FBI said. Nantel said the men detained were being held for violating immigration laws. Authorities haven’t released their names.
All three of those arrested are from Pakistan, another law-enforcement official familiar with the investigation said in an interview.
A house on Waverly Avenue in Watertown, Massachusetts, eight miles (13 kilometers) west of Boston’s financial district, was searched this morning by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Boston Globe reported.
A Watertown resident told the Globe he saw 20 agents draw their guns and that a man 25 to 40 years old was taken into an Immigration and Customs Enforcement van.
Two gas stations in the nearby town of Brookline were also searched by the FBI, WCVB-TV reported. A woman answering the phone at one station said in an interview the FBI was still there and that she could provide no information.
Shahzad, a Pakistan-born naturalized U.S. citizen, faces five counts, including attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and receiving bomb-making training in the Waziristan region of Pakistan.