Times Square bomb suspect abruptly left life in U.S. to return to Pakistan

By Greg Miller and Mary Beth Sheridan
Wednesday, May 5, 2010; A01

Before he was accused of building a bomb, Faisal Shahzad had disassembled his American life.

In June, he abruptly quit his job as a financial analyst. The three-bedroom, two-plus-bath house he shared with his wife and two children in Shelton, Conn., was put on the market. The young family that neighbors often saw playing outside was suddenly gone.

When Shahzad resurfaced in the United States in February, it appears to have been with a new purpose. He ignored the foreclosure filings of his mortgage lender, and, according to authorities, spent his money on a prepaid cellphone, tanks of propane and a used car.

Many details surrounding Shahzad's alleged attempt to bomb Times Square are hard to reconcile. Why would someone who spent a decade pursuing U.S. citizenship seek to bomb an American landmark and flee the country within a year of being naturalized? How could someone with a degree in computers, who authorities say admitted receiving bomb-making training in Pakistan, assemble such an unsophisticated and unsuccessful device?

But the most elusive question about Shahzad -- a man with no known history of violence or connection to militant Islam -- is the same one that often surfaces in terrorism plots: Why?

"To me, they were regular people," said a former neighbor, Mary Ann Galich, 55, who watched the Shahzad family in the summer host barbecues on the back deck or splash in a kiddie pool.

Shahzad's wife, Huma Mian, often wore a veil and a robe, as did the family's female friends, Galich said. Shahzad wore suits or casual American standards such as khakis.

"They didn't really associate" with others in the neighborhood, Galich said, offering the familiar refrain of those who learn they have been living next to someone accused of plotting violence. "I'm shocked. I'm totally shocked."

In photos on social networking Web sites, Shahzad gazes at the camera with a trimmed beard and tight-lipped smile. In one, he wears a tan blazer and poses in front of a gothic cathedral -- presumably in New York City -- embracing his wife.

Huma Mian wears a scarf and jeans in the photo, her tight curls uncovered. Her whereabouts are unclear now, amid reports that she and the children are in Pakistan. She used to update her Facebook account frequently. Under "activities," she lists the laments of a young mother: "changing diapers, feeding milk, wiping drools, being sleep deprived."

Shahzad, 30, was born in Pakistan. A senior Pakistani official said that he is from Pabbi, the main town of the Nowshera district in the northwest, near Peshawar, a city at the edge of the tribal region where al-Qaeda and other militant groups now hide.

At the family house in the village of Mohib Banda, two men identified themselves Tuesday as Shahzad's cousins and said that his father, a retired vice air marshal named Bahar ul-Haq, now lives in Peshawar.

One cousin, Sari ul-Haq, said Shahzad visited the village about six months ago for a wedding and came without his children or wife. "He is a simple man," Haq said. "He has no connections with any militant groups."

Authorities allege otherwise. A criminal complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New York indicates that Shahzad has admitted that he tried to detonate a bomb in Times Square and that "he had recently received bomb-making training in Waziristan."

U.S. officials said the initial phase of their investigation is focused on whether Shahzad was trained by a specific group in Pakistan -- including the Pakistani Taliban, which has claimed credit for the attempted attack -- and whether he is aware of other plots.

The probe may turn to less pressing questions, including why Shahzad uprooted his family suddenly and returned to Pakistan.

Shahzad had been in the United States since shortly after receiving a student visa at age 19, according to immigration records, which indicate "no derogatory information" in his file.

He received a bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut in 2000 and a master's degree in business administration from the same school in 2005. An official there said that Shahzad had transferred to the school with "a little under two years' worth of credit" from Southeastern University, a now-defunct school in Washington.

"He didn't leave much of an impression; he was part of that great mass of students who fall between the good and the bad," said Ward Thrasher, director of the MBA program, who described Shahzad as an "unremarkable, adequate" student.

Shahzad landed a job at Affinion Group, a Connecticut-based marketing company. He spent three years as a financial analyst, a job that typically pays about $50,000, before leaving in June. "He left on his own, quit for his own reasons," said James Hart, a company spokesman.

Along the way, Shahzad and his wife had bought a gray two-story house for $273,000 and tried to sell it in 2008. But the market had slumped and there were no takers, said Frank DelVecchio, the real estate agent who listed the house.

"He was a very pleasant, quiet guy," DelVecchio said, adding that he received an e-mail from Shahzad acknowledging that the couple had defaulted on their $200,000 mortgage. If Shahzad was a fervent follower of Islam, it wasn't evident in Bridgeport. "I've never seen him," said Sheik Hasan Abu-Mar, the imam at the main mosque in town. Other worshipers there Tuesday said the same.

Whatever his motivation, Shahzad said goodbye to his life in America and returned to Pakistan. When the family moved out, "it looked like they dropped everything and just left," said Devon Reid, a 17-year-old neighbor. He and his sister said the family removed big furniture but left behind clothes, shoes, books and items such as lotion and baby food.

After returning to the United States in February, Shahzad made no attempt to reclaim those items or any part of his former life. His behavior at times seemed erratic, but authorities say his objective was singular and clear.

On April 16, Shahzad activated a prepaid cellphone, one that would expire within two weeks, the complaint says. He used the phone to respond to an online ad for a Nissan Pathfinder and arranged to meet the seller in a supermarket parking lot. After taking it for a test drive April 24, he bought it in a transaction with no paper record, handing over 13 $100 bills.

A few days later, Shahzad called the seller to ask how long it had been since the vehicle's last oil change, an odd question for someone accused of buying the vehicle to blow it up. He also had the windows tinted, which made it harder to peer inside. Other phone calls were made to Pakistan and to a fireworks dealer in Pennsylvania.

Exactly one week after the Pathfinder was purchased, it was parked in Times Square, packed with three propane tanks, two canisters of gasoline, 152 M-88 fireworks and two alarm clocks. Three keys, including one to Shahzad's apartment, were in the vehicle. It was left emitting a trail of smoke.

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