Following the discovery of an abandoned SUV parked and “smoldering” in New York City’s Times Square on the evening of Saturday, May 1, local and federal investigators immediately began their effort to identify and capture the individual(s) responsible . Aided by the V.I.N of the would-be weapon of mass destruction and a set of keys found in the vehicle, investigators identified the attacker by May 3. Later that night, as reported May 4 by The New York Times:
The man, Faisal Shahzad, 30, was arrested as he tried to flee the country in a Dubai-bound jet late Monday. Hours later, there were reports that seven or eight people had been arrested in Pakistan, as officials in both countries sought to determine the origins and scope of the plot.
Mr. Shahzad was charged on Tuesday with several terrorism-related crimes. American intelligence officials said that while any ties Mr. Shahzad had to international terrorist groups remained murky, investigators were strongly looking at possible links to the Pakistani Taliban in the attempted attack on Saturday.
The charges (.pdf, via The Atlantic) mentioned by The Times, introduced May 4 in New York’s Southern District Federal Court impart the impression of a highly effective law enforcement effort. After local safety officials, bomb squad, and the NY Fire Department secured Times Square, ensuring there was no risk of detonation, investigators immediately sought to identify the owner of the vehicle.
Members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Taskforce (JTTF) soon discovered that the Nissan Pathfinder abandoned in Times Square had been recently sold for $1,300 cash. The “Seller” — as the agent for the previous owner is identified in court documents — worked with a police sketch artist on May 2, and picked Shahzad out of a photo lineup the next day.
Interviews related to the sale of the Pathfinder informed JTTF agents that Shahzad arrived at the transaction in a Black Isuzu Rodeo, a key for which was also found at the scene of the attempted bombing. Another key opened the door to Shahzad’s Connecticut residence.
These interviews also informed authorities of the phone number used by Shahzad. Records for the number indicate that on the day of the transaction, April 24, Shahzad made two outgoing calls to the Sellers of the Pathfinder, preceded by four incoming calls, all originating in Pakistan. The phone also ties Shahzad to a Pennsylvania fireworks shop, which he called April 25.
Regarding the arrest, its circumstances have been construed in a manor suggesting Shahzad had nearly eluded capture. Though we’ll undoubtedly hear more in the coming days about how Shahzad made it past security and customs in order to board the Emirates Airline flight, reports of his near escape have been overstated.
According to CBS News correspondent Bob Orr, reporting May 4:
Emirates “notified the Department of Homeland Security and the rest of the federal government that they got a last minute request for a purchase- a one way purchase in cash – from an individual who wanted to go to Dubai. Those are all red flags…
Officials also told CBS News that the plane Shahzad boarded for the United Arab Emirates was never going to leave JFK international airport. Law enforcement had already notified authorities that the plane was not to take off.
And even if the flight had departed with the authorities hot on Shahzad’s tail, the plane could have been rerouted back to JFK, or it could have continued on to its destination, a nation which would harbor no reservations about sending the suspect back to the U.S.
Another issue, more of a political matter, has presented itself since the successful capture of Shahzad. Republicans have sought to resurrect their peculiar meme regarding the Miranda rights of terrorists. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) used the opportunity provided by Shahzad’s arrest to politicize the matter, claiming that informing the suspect of his rights would be, as McCain put it, “a serious mistake.” Their concerns, however, are not born out by the facts.
Steve Benen summed it up well on his Washington Monthly blog, May 4:
…this Miranda-related demagoguery is growing stale.
Najibullah Zazi was Mirandized, and the entire case went beautifully. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was Mirandized, and the results have been excellent. When shoe bomber Richard Reid was taken into custody, the Bush/Cheney administration read him his rights five minutes after he was taken off the plane he tried to blow up, and McCain never said a word. It’s been standard practice, especially with American citizens upon their arrest, for years — spanning administrations of both parties.
Further, as retired Army General Paul Eaton told Greg Sargent, a failure to Mirandize Shahzad, an American citizen, could jeopardize any legal action brought against the offender:
“The offense occured at Times Square,” [Eaton] said. “It’s not a military venue. He’s an American citizen. The military has no jurisdiction.”
Eaton added that not Mirandizing the suspect put evidence at risk of getting tossed out of court, and put the suspect at risk of being released, a potential security threat.
“A failure to follow the Miranda requirement could cost us the case, which would be a national security issue, potentially putting Americans at risk,” he said.
Regardless of the baseless Republican criticism, Shahzad was interrogated before being read his rights and after. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder indicated to the press Tuesday that Shahzad, who confessed after his capture, remained cooperative after he was informed of rights. The investigation is ongoing.
Times Square image via Wikimedia Commons.