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Bombing suspect had getaway car, officials say

By Sari Horwitz and Paul Kane
Thursday, May 6, 2010; 5:01 PM

The man suspected in last Saturday's attempted bombing of Times Square drove in the heart of Manhattan one day earlier and left a getaway car near his target, U.S. officials said Thursday.

Faisal Shahzad was apprehended by authorities two days after an SUV rigged with explosives failed to detonate in the crowded Manhattan tourist district. He remains in custody on terrorism and weapons charges, and he is continuing to cooperate extensively with investigators, a senior administration official said Thursday. They now believe that the material he is giving them is largely credible, the official added.

Insight into Shahzad's alleged planning of the attack came as House Minority Leader John A. Boehner delivered a tough critique of the Obama administration's approach to terrorism.

"We have been lucky, but luck is not an effective strategy for fighting terrorism," Boehner said at his weekly press briefing, and he denounced the administration's "bland reassurances."

"Through training, equipping and preparing, you make your own luck," responded Silvestre Reyes, chairman of the House intelligence committee. "We can't sit back and let every situation play out and hope that we're lucky. But we can, as we're doing, create an environment where we control the situation and set ourselves up for success." The committee met Thursday behind closed doors to hear more about the attempted bombing.

Shahzad dropped off a getaway car last Friday in New York, a government official said, but a day later, he locked the keys to it, and to his Connecticut apartment, in an SUV that he drove into Times Square. That forced Shahzad to take the train back to his Bridgeport, Conn., apartment. The Associated Press first reported about the second car.

Officials have said the gray 1993 Nissan Pathfinder, left abandoned in Times Square and loaded with firecrackers, gasoline and propane, could have created a huge fireball and killed nearby tourists and Broadway theatergoers if it had gone off successfully.

Kevin Barry, a retired member of the New York Police Department's bomb squad, told the Associated Press that the design of the bomb -- which included an improvised fireworks-and-powder detonator -- showed Shahzad had sufficient training to understand the basics of rigging an explosive device. But the bomb also included fertilizer that was incapable of exploding.

The alleged plot "was at least the fourth major terrorist incident on U.S. soil in the last eight months," Boehner said -- referring to the failed plot to attack New York's subways, the Fort Hood shootings and the failed Christmas Day bombing attempt of a jet over Detroit.

"Each of these individuals represent new strands of terrorism," Boehner said. "They received varying degrees of support, but all of them are tied to international terrorist organizations and their radical extremism platforms. We are seeing the dangerous results of motivated individuals being able to improve their capability to kill innocent civilians. Yet the Obama administration has spoon-fed the American people with bland reassurances, saying this was a 'one-off' and a 'lone wolf.' This is the rhetoric of an administration that continues to operate without a real, comprehensive plan to confront and defeat the terrorist threat."

Separately, Rep. Peter King, the top Republican on the House homeland security committee, called on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to order an investigation of leaks to the media about the Times Square case.

King, who is also a member of the House intelligence committee, wrote in a letter to Holder on Thursday that "leaks from the administration provided details of the ongoing investigation, which, after the attack, turned out to be accurate." He described such disclosures as "a dangerous pattern that could undermine the entire investigation, risk lives of law enforcement officers, and jeopardize the ability to achieve convictions."

The lawmakers' remarks come as the U.S. government continues to ramp up security measures in the wake of the failed Times Square attack.

On Wednesday, the government began requiring airlines to check no-fly lists much more quickly as a way to screen out terrorism suspects, officials said. Shahzad was able to board an international flight even though his name was listed.

Until now, airlines have had 24 hours to check the government's no-fly list after they were notified that a name was added through a special expedited process that indicates a potentially high level of risk. As of Wednesday, they must check within two hours.

Shahzad was placed on the expedited no-fly list at 12:30 p.m. Monday. But he was able to buy a one-way ticket to Pakistan shortly after 7:30 p.m., a little more than four hours before the flight was scheduled to leave. After he boarded the Emirates airline flight at John F. Kennedy International airport in New York, federal officials were alerted and escorted him off the plane.

"In his case, the airline seemingly didn't check the name, and the suspect was allowed to purchase a ticket and obtain a boarding pass," a senior administration official said Wednesday in an e-mail. "Under the new measure, the airline would be required to re-check the list within two hours of being notified of a special circumstance expedited no-fly name."

Emirates airline has said it did check the list hours before the flight, but, because Shahzad had not yet bought his ticket, his name was not on the manifest. The government has challenged parts of the airline's account.

In a statement Wednesday, Emirates said that it "fully cooperated with and responded immediately to all local and federal authorities on all matters" related to the flight. It also said it is fully compliant with all U.S. passenger check-in procedures and works closely with the U.S. government "to update security watch lists on a regular and timely basis."

The policy change announced Wednesday underscores the challenge U.S. security officials face as they rely on individual airlines to scan lists of potentially high-risk passengers and help to screen them out. Control of the screening system is gradually being shifted from the airlines to the government.

A group of Democratic senators called on President Obama to issue an executive order to close what they said is a loophole that allows suspects such as Shahzad to escape detection by paying cash for airline tickets.

Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Mark Udall (Colo.) said in a statement Wednesday that, under their proposal, if a passenger tried to buy a plane ticket with cash, the airline would have to alert the Transportation Security Administration. An on-site TSA agent would then examine the person's ID for forgery and check his or her name against the latest no-fly list.

The senators said the new policy would bolster airline security until the end of the year, when airlines' responsibility for checking passenger manifests against the no-fly list is scheduled to shift entirely to the TSA.

Staff writers Jerry Markon and Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.

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