NEW YORK (Reuters) - The suspected Times Square bomber is cooperating with investigators who are seeking details about his contacts in Pakistan, postponing indefinitely any court appearance, law enforcement sources said on Wednesday.
Faisal Shahzad, 30, who was born in Pakistan and became a U.S. citizen last year, is accused of trying to kill and maim people with a car bomb in the heart of Manhattan Saturday night. Authorities defused the bomb.
Formally charged with five terrorism-related counts, he faces life in prison if convicted unless he negotiates a lesser sentence in exchange for cooperation.
He was not yet assigned a defense lawyer and no court appearance has been scheduled, a law enforcement source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because there is a pending investigation.
Another source said he was cooperating with investigators, indicating he might waive his right to appear before a judge within 48 hours of his Monday night arrest.
“He was giving them intricate details as to what he did overseas,” said the U.S. law enforcement source familiar with the investigation. “There was a determination that there wasn’t anyone else in the (New York) area to target.”
Prosecutors say Shahzad, the son of a retired Pakistani vice air marshal, drove a crude homemade bomb of gasoline, propane gas, fireworks and fertilizer into Times Square and fled.
Authorities defused the bomb and later captured Shahzad, plucking him from an Emirates airline flight to Dubai on his way back to Pakistan, where prosecutors say he had received bomb-making training. The law enforcement source said investigators believe the Pakistani Taliban financed that training.
Shahzad had bought a ticket and boarded the plane Monday evening despite having been put on a U.S. government “no-fly” list earlier in the day. Wednesday, the Obama administration ordered airlines to step up their efforts to prevent people on the list from boarding flights.
Several of Shahzad’s relatives were arrested in Pakistan after he was removed from the plane, Pakistani officials said.
Shahzad, a former budget analyst who worked for a marketing firm in the U.S. state of Connecticut, came from a relatively privileged background that offered no hints of radicalism.
Residents of his home village of Mohib Banda were in disbelief. “I never observed any inclination for militancy,” a close family friend told Reuters.
The issue of whether to extend terrorism suspects the same rights as common criminal defendants has been at the heart of a political debate in the United States. Conservative opponents of President Barack Obama argue they should be treated as enemy combatants, denying them rights in order to gather intelligence.
But federal investigators have claimed success in gathering information from suspects — even after reading them their rights — in recent cases such a Nigerian charged with attempting to blow up a Detroit-bound plane with a device hidden in his underwear, and an attempted New York City subway bomber.
New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said late Tuesday that Shahzad admitted trying to set off the bomb and training in a Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold in Pakistan.
“He’s giving us significant information,” Kelly told NY 1 television. “We want to learn as much as we can about him, we want to learn about the training, who gave the training, where did it happen.”
Kelly said it was the 11th thwarted attack on New York City since hijacked airliners destroyed the World Trade Center’s twin towers on September 11, 2001, killing more than 2,700 people in the city.
Obama said the investigation would seek to determine whether Shahzad had any connection with foreign extremist groups.
The Taliban in Pakistan Sunday claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing, saying it was planned to avenge the killing in April of al Qaeda’s two top leaders in Iraq as well as U.S. involvement in Muslim countries.
While some U.S. officials were skeptical about the claim, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told CBS News he believed the failed attack was a retaliation for the United States targeting Taliban followers.
“This is a blow back. This is a reaction. This is retaliation,” he said. “Let’s not be naive. They’re not going to sort of sit and welcome you to eliminate them. They’re going to fight back. And we have to be ready for this fight.”
Additional reporting by Edith Honan and Michelle Nichols in New York; Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; and Zeeshan Haider in Mohib Banda, Pakistan; Editing by Frances Kerry and Vicki Allen