Holder vows to pursue Times Square suspects abroad

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 13, 2010; 4:39 PM

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told a House panel Thursday that federal authorities continue to believe the Pakistani Taliban was behind a May 1 attempted car bomb attack in Times Square, and he vowed that the administration would use all available resources to bring those responsible to justice, whether they are in the United States or overseas.

Holder's testimony came as federal agents executed new search warrants in the Northeast in connection with the car bomb plot and took at least three people into custody. The plot failed when the explosives did not detonate and bystanders alerted police to a fire in a parked SUV. The FBI said agents were searching locations in the Boston area, New York and New Jersey for evidence related to the Times Square investigation.

Holder told the House Judiciary Committee that "several individuals encountered during those searches" were taken into federal custody for alleged immigration violations. He did not immediately provide further details of the arrests.

"These searches are the product of evidence that has been gathered in the investigation since the attempted Times Square bombing and do not relate to any known immediate threat to the public or active plot against the United States," Holder said.

Faisal Shahzad, 30, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Pakistan, has been charged with attempting to detonate a homemade bomb in the back of his SUV on a busy Saturday night in Times Square. An FBI complaint said he admitted his role in the attempted attack and said he had received bombmaking training in a rugged tribal area of his native Pakistan that harbors Taliban and al-Qaeda militants.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the failed bombing and vowed to carry out other attacks in the United States. Investigators are looking into possible links between Shahzad and the Pakistani Taliban and another militant group.

"We now believe that the Pakistan Taliban was responsible for this attempted attack," Holder told the House panel Thursday morning.

"We are currently working with the authorities in Pakistan on this investigation, and we will use every available resource to make sure that anyone found responsible -- whether they be in the United States or overseas -- is held accountable," he said.

Defending the administration's approach to counterterrorism, Holder told the committee: "Protecting Americans against terrorism remains the highest priority for the Department of Justice. The administration will continue to use all lawful means to protect our national security, including, where appropriate, military, law enforcement, diplomatic and economic tools and authorities."

He added, "As one of the counterterrorism tools available to us, the criminal justice system has proven its strength in both incapacitating terrorists and gathering valuable intelligence."

In opening statements, several Republican members criticized the Obama administration's handling of the war against terrorism and said it was sheer luck that the Times Square car bomb, as well as explosives smuggled aboard a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, did not explode.

The attempted Times Square attack "was stymied by [Shahzad's] ineptness and alert pedestrians," said Rep. Lamar Smith (Tex.), the top Republican on the panel. "Our national security policy should consist of more than just dumb terrorists and smart citizens because sooner or later, a terrorist is going to build a bomb that works."

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