Thursday, May 13, 2010
Searches in Times Square probe yield 3 arrests
WATERTOWN, Mass. – Federal agents conducted Thursday morning raids in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey in connection with the failed Times Square car bomb and arrested three people, including two Pakistani men who provided money to the suspect, Faisal Shahzad, law enforcement officials said.
The searches were the product of evidence gathered in the investigation into Shahzad's alleged bombing attempt two weeks ago, but there was "no known immediate threat to the public or any active plot against the United States," FBI spokeswoman Gail Marcinkiewicz said.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Brian Hale said three people were arrested on suspected immigration violations: two in the Boston area and one in Maine. All three arrests are administrative and not criminal, he said.
The two Boston-area men had a "direct connection" to Shahzad, said a top Massachusetts law enforcement official. They are believed to have provided money to him, but investigators weren't sure whether they were witting accomplices or simply moving funds, as is common among people from the Middle East and Central Asia who live in the U.S., said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
"These people might be completely innocent and not know what they were providing money for, but it's clear there's a connection," the official said.
The men are from Pakistan, said another law enforcement official familiar with the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to release details.
That official said one of the men had overstayed his visa. The government had already begun proceedings to remove the other man from the country; he was awaiting a ruling from an immigration court.
Police cordoned off a small house in Watertown, a suburb about 10 miles west of Boston, and a neighbor reported seeing an FBI raid there.
A Mobil gas station in Brookline, another Boston suburb, also was raided. The entrances and exits to the station were cordoned off by yellow tape, and FBI agents were going in and out of the building. Agents also searched a silver Honda in the parking lot, removing items from the vehicle and loading material into an SUV.
FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said locations in Long Island also were searched.
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press the search warrants were executed at homes in the towns of Centereach and Shirley and that no one has been arrested in New York in connection with the bomb plot. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.
In New Jersey, the FBI was searching a residence in Cherry Hill, N.J., and a print shop in Camden, N.J., said FBI spokesman J.J. Klaver in Philadelphia.
Shahzad, a U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, has not yet appeared in court. Federal investigators say he has been cooperating and has told them he received weapons training in Pakistan.
Elias Audy, 61, of Boston, is listed at the owner of the Mobil station. He was seen by reporters leaving the business afterward and had no comment.
Shahzad, 30, is accused of trying to detonate a bomb-laden SUV in Times Square on May 1. Police said the bomb had alarm clocks connected to a can filled with fireworks apparently intended to detonate gas cans and propane tanks.
The vehicle smoldered but didn't explode. Federal agents, tracing Shahzad through the SUV's previous owner, caught him two days later on a plane bound for the United Arab Emirates as it was departing New York's Kennedy Airport.
Vinny Lacerra, 50, who lives across the street from the house raided in Watertown, said he was in his living room about 6 a.m. when he heard somebody say, "FBI! Put your hands up!"
Lacerra said he looked out his windows and saw 15 to 20 FBI agents with their guns drawn surrounding the house.
About 15 minutes later, the agents went inside and came out with one man handcuffed and took him down the street, he said. He also said he saw an agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"I was surprised to see this, because this is what you see on TV," Lacerra said.
There was no indication that Audy, the gas station owner, was a target of the terror probe.
Audy was born in Lebanon, and came to the United States at 19 to study at the University of Houston in Texas and then at Northeastern University in Boston near his brother, according to the website of a used car dealership Audy also owned.
"He's very, very philanthropically minded as a businessman, very involved in his community," said Harry Robinson, executive director of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce.
Robinson said Audy has a wife and family and has been a longtime U.S. resident. Robinson also said he was not only involved in the chamber, but the local Rotary club.
Shahzad had been living in Connecticut. William Reiner, FBI spokesman in Connecticut, there were no search warrants served in the state Thursday as part of the investigation.
Associated Press writers Jay Lindsay from Brookline, Mass., Russell Contreras, Glen Johnson and Denise Lavoie in Boston, Tom Hays in New York, Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia, John Christoffersen in New Haven, Conn., and Eileen Sullivan from Washington contributed to this report.