Three in custody suspected of money ties to Times Square bombing

By Jerry Markon and Julie Tate
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 13, 2010; 3:14 PM

Federal agents fanned out across the northeastern United States on Thursday and took into custody three people suspected of providing money to the suspect in the failed Times Square car bombing, officials said.

Two of the individuals were taken into custody in the Boston area and the third in Maine, officials said; they were all arrested on immigration violations. Federal agents were also executing search warrants in connection with the Times Square probe in New York and New Jersey.

Those in custody "may have provided money to [Faisal] Shahzad but may not have known what they were doing," said a federal law enforcement official, referring to the Pakistani-American charged in the attempted bombing. "The question is, did they provide money, did they facilitate and were they knowing?"

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the search warrants are under court seal.

It was unclear how those arrested may have financed the plot, but the official indicated it was likely not through a hawala, an informal money-transfer network that is commonly used in South Asia and the Middle East and that has been linked to terrorist activity.

Since Shahzad's arrest May 3, investigators have been focusing on how he acquired the money to finance the alleged plot, law enforcement officials have said. They have also said they have been tracking the movement of a money courier who may have helped funnel the cash to him.

Shahzad brought $80,000 in cash into the United States when he returned from trips overseas between 1999 and 2008.

Senior Obama administration officials have blamed the Pakistani Taliban for the May 1 attempted bombing and said the group was responsible for planning and financing the botched attack, in which an SUV was loaded with explosives and parked in Times Square.

But it was unclear if the people arrested had ties to the Pakistani Taliban or other militant groups, a subject that officials indicated they are exploring as they interrogate the three arrested Thursday.

"That's the $50,000 question," said another federal law enforcement official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. "To what degree they are involved, are they tied to an organization or to a specific individual, I don't know the answer to that."

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested at least two of the three people in a raid in Watertown, a suburb about 10 miles west of Boston, law enforcement officials said. They are being held on suspected immigration violations and are believed to have overstayed their visas in the United States, officials said.

One of those arrested was Pir Khan, who lives at a house in Watertown that was raided, law enforcement officials said. Khan is a director of a local cab company, records show. Also raided were gas stations in Brookline, Mass., the officials said.

Two federal search warrants were also executed on Long Island, N.Y., in connection with the Times Square investigation, said FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko, a spokesman for the FBI's New York field office. No arrests were reported in New York or in Camden and Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where officials said search warrants were also being executed.

The raids were "the product of evidence gathered in the investigation" and "do not relate to any known immediate threat to the public or active plot against the United States,'' said Special Agent Gail Marcinkiewicz, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Boston field office.

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