June 22 (Bloomberg) -- Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen who said he was trained to use explosives by the Pakistani Taliban, pleaded guilty to driving a bomb-laden car into New York’s Times Square to avenge the deaths of Muslims.
Shahzad, 30, pleaded guilty yesterday less than two months after his arrest to all 10 terrorism-related charges, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, brought in an indictment on June 17 by prosecutors in the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
Shahzad told U.S. District Judge Miriam Cedarbaum that he “intended to damage buildings, injure people, kill people” in the May 1 bombing attempt.
“I consider myself a Mujahid, a Muslim soldier. The U.S. and NATO forces have attacked the Muslim lands,” he said. “It’s a war,” he said, adding “I am part of that. I am part of the answer of the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people, and on behalf of that, I’m revenging the attacks.”
Bharara said in a statement that Shahzad, who prosecutors said faces a mandatory life sentence, didn’t have a plea deal with the government and that the investigation is continuing. Cedarbaum scheduled Shahzad’s sentencing for Oct. 5.
“Faisal Shahzad plotted and launched an attack that could have led to serious loss of life, and today the American criminal justice system ensured that he will pay the price for his actions,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday in the statement.
Cedarbaum closely questioned Shahzad at yesterday’s hearing in Manhattan, frequently interrupting him. She asked him why he wanted to plead guilty.
“I want to plead guilty and I’m going to plead guilty a hundred times over,” Shahzad answered, according to a transcript, “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.”
Shahzad, who has been held without bail since appearing before a federal magistrate on May 18, was led away from the courtroom in handcuffs. He is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the federal jail in lower Manhattan.
Shahzad was originally charged in a criminal complaint unsealed May 4, the day after his arrest, with one count each of attempted terrorism; attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction; using a destructive device in connection with an attempted crime of violence; transporting explosives; and attempting to destroy property with fire and explosives.
He pleaded guilty yesterday to those charges and five new crimes which prosecutors added to their case against Shahzad on June 18, including conspiracy counts and an attempted terrorist act transcending national borders. The U.S. said in the indictment that Shahzad received about $12,000 from a Pakistan-based militant extremist group to finance the plot.
He also pleaded guilty to having a loaded rifle with him when he left a bomb-laden Nissan Pathfinder at Times Square. He said he folded the loaded 9 mm Kel-Tec semiautomatic rifle, put it in a laptop computer bag, and carried it to Grand Central Terminal train station, about five blocks away, and then home to Bridgeport, Connecticut.
“It’s for killing,” Cedarbaum said, referring to the rifle.
“Self defense, not for killing,” Shahzad responded. “I had the gun just in case if I was attacked or if I was captured, for my self-defense.”
Shahzad admitted he conspired “with others” outside the U.S. who are members of Tehrik-e-Taliban, described by prosecutors as a militant extremist group based in the Waziristan region of Pakistan. He said he received 40 days of terrorist training from the group, including five days of bomb-making training.
Shahzad also received financing to carry out the attack, including about $5,000 on Feb. 25 in Massachusetts from an unidentified co-conspirator in Pakistan who Shahzad “understood worked for Tehrik-e-Taliban,” prosecutors said in court papers.
Shahzad later received about $7,000 on April 10 in Ronkonkoma on Long Island east of New York City, according to the indictment. That money was sent by the same unidentified co-conspirator in Pakistan, prosecutors said. Shahzad bought a prepaid cellular telephone on April 16 and the Pathfinder on April 24.
Shahzad said yesterday in court that he used the money from the Pakistan Taliban to make the bomb in his apartment.
“That’s where I made the bomb in the house and then I put the bomb in the car, in the Nissan Pathfinder and drove the car to Times Squares in order to explode it,” he said, referring incorrectly to the busy Midtown crossroads.
The vehicle, containing an improvised bomb made of firecrackers, propane tanks and gasoline canisters, was found abandoned and smoking on the street as the items in the back smoldered, the U.S. said in court papers.
Shahzad said he set the bomb’s detonator to go off in 2 1/2 to five minutes and left the vehicle.
He said he expected to hear an explosion, and walked into the crowd when it didn’t detonate. That comment provoked the sharpest exchange with the judge during the hearing that lasted almost an hour.
“You wanted to injure a lot of people?” Cedarbaum asked.
Shahzad said he was in a “war” and wanted to avenge Muslims killed by U.S.
“But not the people who were walking in Times Square that night,” the judge said. “Did you look around to see who they were?”
‘All the Same’
“Well the people select the government,” Shahzad said. “We consider them all the same. The drones, when they hit ....”
The judge interrupted him, saying, “Including the children?”
Shahzad was arrested at about 11 p.m. on May 3 at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport after boarding a flight to Dubai. He was questioned by federal authorities for two weeks.
Prosecutors said in a letter to two federal judges in New York that they advised Shahzad daily of his constitutional rights to remain silent and be brought before a judge. Prosecutors said Shahzad repeatedly waived those rights during the two weeks he was being questioned.
Prosecutors said that leads developed in Shahzad’s case have been pursued by “hundreds of agents in different cities working around the clock since the defendant’s arrest.”
Federal agents probing the attempted car bombing arrested three people on May 13 on immigration charges in a series of raids in the northeastern U.S., law enforcement officials said. No one else has been publicly charged in the plot by U.S. authorities.
The searches were “the product of evidence that has been gathered in the investigation since the attempted Times Square bombing” and didn’t relate to any known new threat, federal authorities said.
Shahzad, who was born in Pakistan, lived in the U.S. for 10 years and became a U.S. citizen in April of last year, records show. He said his wife and children, who had been with him in the U.S., moved to Pakistan and are living with his parents in Peshawar.
He left the U.S. on June 2, 2009, to join the Tehrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan, he said in court.
“It’s a war,” Shahzad told Cedarbaum. “I did the training to wage an attack inside the United States of America. It would have been any kind of attack, but I was given bomb training, and that is what I learned there.”
The case is U.S. v. Shahzad, 10-00928, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
To contact the reporter on this story: Patricia Hurtado in federal court in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at email@example.com.