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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET


Mike Levine

Washington, DC


Any Warning Signs In Car Bomb Attempt?

May 6, 2010 - 9:46 PM | by: Mike Levine


Faisal Shahzad (Courtesy: AP/


As more trickles out about what led a Pakistani-American from Connecticut to drive a car bomb into New York’s Times Square on Saturday, authorities are trying to determine whether federal law enforcement agencies missed warning signs about the attempted attack, according to U.S. officials.

The investigation so far suggests that 30-year-old Faisal Shahzad had not previously raised any eyebrows as a potential terrorist, one official said.

But the investigation has also determined that Shahzad is a “fan and follower” of radical cleric Anwar Awlaki, who has been linked to the Ft. Hood shootings in November 2009 and the attempted Christmas Day bombing nearly two months later, one source with knowledge of the investigation said.

In particular, the source said, Shahzad told interrogators he was a fan of a CD promoting extremist ideology and featuring Awlaki, who was born in the United States but is now in Yemen. Investigators have found no evidence that Shahzad had any direct contact, such as email exchanges, with Awlaki.

Shahzad also told interrogators he was linked to the Taliban in Pakistan, had received bomb-making training there, and was upset over U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, sources said.

Authorities are still trying to corroborate any links between Shahzad and known terrorists, as they also try to figure out how much the U.S. government knew about Shahzad before Saturday’s attempted attack.

“We are in the process of trying to determine exactly what we knew about [Shahzad] and when,” Attorney General Eric Holder told a Senate committee on Thursday.

Specifically, he said, the Justice Department and others are looking at files and “indicies” across the U.S. government “to see exactly what we knew about this gentleman.”

One law enforcement official said that, after five days of investigation, authorities have found no record of either the FBI or members of a Joint Terrorism Task Force coming into contact with Shahzad prior to the incident in Times Square.

In fact, one law enforcement official said, Shahzad never raised any red flags warranting placement on a terrorism watchlist or even the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment database, which Homeland Security Secretary has described as a “generic” and “large mega-database” with more than a half-million people whose names have popped up “in any way connected to something with the word ‘terrorism’ associated with it.”

More than 95 percent of the people in the TIDE database are not U.S. citizens, according to the National Counterterrorism Center, which oversees the database. Shahzad became a U.S. citizen in April 2009.

Shahzad, however, did appear in some government files not related to terrorism investigations or watchlists. Customs and Border Protection, in particular, created several files as a result of his repeated travel between the United States and his native Pakistan.

In 1999, after declaring on customs forms that he was bringing tens of thousands of dollars in cash into the United States, customs officials entered Shahzad into the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS), a database of more than a billion records designed to help authorities identify potential violations of customs and travel laws.

A “lookout” related to Shahzad was never issued, according to one official.

“It is not unusual for CBP to see individuals with long-term travel to countries with informal cash-based economies to self declare large quantities of cash when entering or exiting the country,” another official said.

TECS is currently maintained by the Department of Homeland Security, but Shahzad’s TECS file was created when the system was housed in the Treasury Department and before DHS was even established.

Shahzad was also in other CBP files, which allowed investigators to identify Shahzad as the suspect in the Times Square attempted bombing, according to one law enforcement official.

The official said that in February, after flying into the United States from a five-month trip to Pakistan, Shahzad underwent a “secondary screening” by CBP officers. Pakistan was on a 14-country list, produced by the Department of Homeland Security in the wake of the Christmas Day attempt, that required extra screening for anyone traveling back from one of the 14 countries.

During the secondary screening, Shahzad provided CBP officers with a phone number, which was included in a routine CBP report about the extra screening.

Early Sunday morning, hours after the bomb-laden SUV was discovered in Times Square, investigators were able to track down a phone number associated with the still-unidentified suspect. While scouring phone records related to the phone number, investigators found that one number related to the suspect matched the number that Shahzad gave CBP during his secondary screening. Authorities now had the name of their suspect.

Meanwhile, other U.S. government files provided a “key” moment in the investigation, according to one U.S. official.

As a result of Shahzad’s application to become a U.S. citizen, Immigration and Customs Enforcement created a file on him, complete with a photo. During their investigation, FBI agents showed the ICE photo to a Connecticut woman who had owned the SUV found in Times Square, and she was able to positively identify Shahzad as the man who recently bought it from her for $1,300 in cash.

On Thursday, Holder declined to tell lawmakers what authorities have already uncovered about Shahzad’s background — and what authorities may have known about him before the attempted attack in Times Square.

He said the investigation still continues and he’s prevented “from getting into too much detail about what we know at this point.”

“Some of that serves as the basis for things that are on-going,” he said.