Evidence mounts that Pakistani major spoke to Times Square suspect
A Pakistani law enforcement source says the major had cellphone
contact with Faisal Shahzad just before the bombing attempt.
By Alex Rodriguez and Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times
May 23, 2010
Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Washington
and U.S. investigators cited growing evidence Saturday that a Pakistani
army major had been in cellphone contact with a man who allegedly
attempted to bomb Times Square in New York, including the possibility
that they spoke shortly before the failed bombing.
U.S. officials said they were aware of cellphone traffic between Faisal
Shahzad and the unidentified Pakistani military officer, bolstering
reports days earlier from Pakistani law enforcement sources.
A Pakistani law enforcement source added detail Saturday, saying the
major had cellphone contact with Shahzad on May 1, the day of the
botched bombing, including a conversation that occurred as the
Pakistani American was allegedly parking his SUV rigged with propane
tanks, fertilizer and fireworks.
Investigators are keenly interested in the major's role in the bombing
attempt because he had more than one cellphone conversation with
Shahzad from the time the suspect allegedly loaded his Nissan
Pathfinder with bomb components to the moment he parked the vehicle and
walked away, said the Pakistani source, who spoke on condition of
anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the
U.S. officials said they could not confirm that timing of the
conversations between Shahzad and the major. U.S. investigators have
limited information about the major, who is in custody in Pakistan, and
are negotiating with the Pakistani government to interrogate him, they
The Pakistani source said the sequence of phone calls suggests that the
major was aware of the plan that Shahzad is accused of trying to carry
out — detonating a bomb in one of New York's prime tourist magnets —
though investigators are still trying to determine the major's exact
Investigators know of at least one meeting between the major and
Shahzad in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, sometime in 2009, the
Pakistani source said. Authorities have previously said they believed
that Shahzad arrived in Pakistan from the U.S. last summer and later
went to Pakistan's tribal areas, where he got training in bomb-making
at a Taliban camp.
The bomb was poorly constructed and had little chance of causing a
large number of deaths, suggesting that its maker was unable to follow
through with whatever training he did receive.
Although Pakistani authorities have been cooperating with U.S.
investigators in ferreting out Pakistanis linked to Shahzad, they have
tried to downplay any ties he might have to the Taliban, instead
portraying him as a lone wolf.
Three weeks into the investigation, however, there appears to be little
doubt of the Pakistani Taliban's strong link to Shahzad and the bombing
Pakistani law enforcement sources have said that, while Shahzad
was in Pakistan last summer, he met with a Taliban facilitator at least
three times. At one of those meetings, the Taliban member provided an
undisclosed sum of money because Shahzad had said he was running out of
cash. U.S. officials familiar with the case have said that the Taliban
gave Shahzad about $15,000 to finance the attack.
A Taliban member who said he was familiar with Shahzad's travels in
Pakistan's tribal areas last year said Taliban facilitators transported
Shahzad from the northwestern city of Peshawar into the Mohmand region
in the tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan.
There, he said, Shahzad was taken to Omar Khalid, the Pakistani
Taliban's leader in Mohmand, before getting five days of training at a
Taliban camp near the village of Baizai, near the border.
It remains unclear whether the major had any connection with the
Taliban. However, his role in the case could become an embarrassment
for the Pakistani military, which regards the Taliban as a formidable
threat to the country and has launched large-scale offensives against
the militant group in the country's restive Swat Valley and in several
tribal belt regions, including South Waziristan, Bajaur and Orakzai.
The army has denied that any officer has been arrested in connection
with the Shahzad case and said that the major in question was arrested
for disciplinary reasons. It also described him as a retired army
major. However, the law enforcement source said the major was in the
army at the time of his arrest.
The major is one of at least 13 people who have been arrested or
detained in Pakistan in connection with the Shahzad case. Pakistani
authorities have also arrested Salman Ashraf Khan, the co-owner of a
catering company that serves embassies and large companies.
It is unclear how Khan might be tied to the Times Square bombing
attempt. On Friday, the U.S. Embassy issued a warning about the
catering company, Hanif Rajput Catering Service, saying that it had
links to terrorist groups.
2010 Los Angeles Times