Faisal Shahzad: violent fanatic, or unhappy homeowner?

Charles Lane
Copyright 2010
Thursday, May 6, 2010; 6:41 PM

An emerging media narrative about Faisal Shahzad portrays him as a quiet homeowner whose once-normal life ???unraveled??? amid the Great Recession. Much has been made of the fact that his house was in foreclosure, with all the suffering that implies. For its part, The New York Times has reported on his ???money woes,??? based on second-hand recollections from an unnamed source in Pakistan. So, was Shahzad, like Riff in West Side Story, depraved on account of being deprived? I don???t buy it. The closer I look at the evidence, including foreclosure documents filed in a Connecticut court, the more it appears that Shahzad was actually in relatively good financial shape compared to many other recession-wracked Americans. I got the foreclosure documents from a confidential source on the condition that I not post them online, but many of the relevant details are here and here. Let???s start with the mortgage he took out on July 27, 2004. It was not a subprime loan, but a plain-vanilla 30-year deal that called for him to put down $54,600 -- 20 percent of the $273,000 purchase price -- and borrow about $218,400. Assuming a 6.25 percent interest rate (the national average at the time), his monthly payment would have been about $1,345. There was nothing especially onerous about this: Shahzad was steadily employed in a middle-class job. As recently as Feb. 2009, he was not ???underwater??? -- as can be deduced from the fact that in this month Wachovia extended Shahzad a $65,000 line of credit secured by the equity in his home. Remember, this was a time when banks were denying credit even to good customers. Shahzad must have been current on his house payments, with a pretty high credit score, or Wachovia would have told him to take a hike. Two months later, on April 17, 2009, Shahzad became a U.S. citizen -- and within a matter of days he had left his job and stopped paying his mortgage. Note that, unlike so many others in the U.S., he was not fired or downsized in the recession, but voluntarily quit his job and, on June 2, 2009, moved back to Pakistan, where would later begin explosives training. It was not until three months later, in Sept. 2009, that Chase Home Finance filed for foreclosure in state court. At the time, Shahzad???s unpaid balance was slightly more than $200,000 -- again, the remaining principal amount, which is about $18,000 less than the original loan, suggests that he had been current on his payments until he suddenly and voluntarily stopped them and abandoned the property. Yes, technically, Shahzad was ???facing??? foreclosure at the time of his crime, as has been reported. But he consciously brought this on himself and never contested Chase's move to seize the property. Home ownership hardly seems to have been his principal worry as he busied himself with the more pressing tasks of building a car bomb and figuring out how to kill people. He was planning an escape back to Pakistan, where he could rely on his wealthy and prominent family. In fact, the foreclosure looks more like a result of Shahzad???s fanaticism than a cause of it. When it comes to the relationship between economic distress and terrorism, Shahzad???s case doesn???t prove anything except, perhaps, that some people believe much more deeply in hatred and violence than in the American Dream.

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