Life term for failed Times Square bomber

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The man who tried to bomb Times Square in May was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday, bringing a quiet end to a case that dramatized what authorities say is a growing threat from domestic and global terrorists.

Faisal Shahzad sparred with the judge and smirked as the sentence was imposed for his failed attempt to detonate an explosives-packed Nissan Pathfinder on May 1 in one of the busiest intersections in New York. "We are only Muslims . . . but if you call us terrorists, we are proud terrorists, and we will keep on terrorizing you," he said, adding that "the defeat of the U.S. is imminent."

U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum said the mandatory life term was important "to protect the public from further crimes of this defendant and others who would seek to follow him." As Shahzad defended his actions, Cedarbaum at one point cut him off to ask whether he had sworn allegiance to the United States when he became a U.S. citizen last year.

"I did swear, but I did not mean it," Shahzad said.

"So you took a false oath," the judge replied.

Shahzad, 31, pleaded guilty to 10 bombing-related counts in June, less than two months after he was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport aboard a flight to Dubai. Federal officials hailed the case's quick resolution, saying it showed that the criminal justice system can handle complex terrorism matters. At least 20 U.S. citizens have been charged with major terrorism violations in federal court this year, according to Justice Department statistics.

Legal experts have called the case a law enforcement triumph but said Shahzad's near-success in detonating the device should serve as a warning to federal officials, who failed to detect the plot. Shahzad's bomb fizzled before it could explode because of faulty wiring and the use of such ingredients as low-grade fertilizer. The smoking car attracted the attention of a street vendor, who alerted police.

Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, called Shahzad "a remorseless terrorist who betrayed his adopted country" and was "rightly sentenced to spend the rest of his life in federal prison."

Janice K. Fedarcyk, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York office, said the case "demonstrates the global scope of the terrorist threat. Distinctions between homegrown and foreign terrorists are blurred when a U.S. citizen travels to Pakistan to learn bomb-making from a known terrorist organization, then returns to the U.S. and receives financial backing from the overseas organization."

At the White House, spokesman Nick Shapiro praised the civilian court process. "We are pleased that this terrorist has been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison, after providing substantial intelligence to our interrogators, and a speedy civilian trial. . . . We were able to use everything that he said and everything that we uncovered for intelligence collection purposes. His trial served no propaganda purpose for al Qaeda and only underscored the strength of our justice system."

Members of Shahzad's family in Pakistan expressed sadness over the conviction and sentencing. Sherzada Khan, 54, a maternal uncle of Shahzad's who is a government worker, said in a telephone interview: "We all are in deep shock. . . . Both of Faisal Shahzad's aging parents have been really upset and avoid discussing this issue. We were praying that they would prove Faisal innocent, as his parents are still not ready to accept that their son is guilty."

Sarirul Haq, 48, a first cousin of Shahzad's, is a government worker from Mohib Banda, Shahzad's ancestral town. "What can I say on the verdict, and how can I comment on whether it was fair or not?" Haq said in a telephone interview. "The family is going through a depressing phase, and we never thought such an incident could come our way."

The government has said the Pakistani Taliban was behind the attempted attack and provided Shahzad, a former financial analyst, with $12,000 to carry it out. Shahzad, who lived in Connecticut with his family, trained in Pakistan in preparation for the bombing attempt.

As he was being interrogated after his arrest, Shahzad boasted that he expected the bomb to kill at least 40 people and that he had planned to detonate a second bomb two weeks later, prosecutors said in court papers filed before sentencing. They quoted him as saying in a video that he had hoped "to join my brothers in jihad" since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Prosecutors also presented as evidence another video showing the results of an FBI-staged test blast designed to reconstruct the damage Shahzad's device would have caused.

The test explosion, at a remote spot in Pennsylvania, triggered a giant fireball that shot debris hundreds of feet in all directions, shredding four cars parked nearby and obliterating about a dozen dummies posing as pedestrians.

Staff writer Karin Brulliard and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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