From New Citizen to Suspect in a Year

Daily News Article   —   Posted on May 5, 2010

(by Josh Barbanel, Andrew Grossman and Sumathi Reddy, The Wall Street Journal, wsj.com) – Faisal Shahzad was losing his Connecticut home to foreclosure, disliked President George W. Bush, and was an almost invisible presence at the American university where he earned two degrees.

Those are some of the details in the still-emerging portrait of the man who authorities say has implicated himself in the botched Times Square bomb plot.

Mr. Shahzad was born in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, according to Pakistan’s U.S. embassy. He worked at a Connecticut marketing firm until 2009, the same year he became a U.S. citizen.

At the time of his arrest, Mr. Shahzad and his wife, Huma Mian, were facing foreclosure on the…home…they owned on Long Hill Avenue near the center of Shelton, Conn. He is “financially bankrupt,” said a high-level official briefed on the investigation.

Neighbors and brokers said Mr. Shahzad and his wife had moved away and abandoned the house months ago. A lockbox with a key was on the front door, and the lawn was being mowed on behalf of the bank, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., which issued the mortgage when the house was purchased in 2004.

……………….

Igor Djuric, a broker who showed Mr. Shahzad the 1,356-square-foot home he eventually bought, said he remembered that Mr. Shahzad was quiet about himself, but was openly critical of President Bush in the aftermath of the Iraq war.

“I didn’t take it for anything, since a lot of people didn’t like Bush,” Mr. Djuric said, “but he was a little bit strong about expressing it.”

The only thing strange about Mr. Shahzad that next-door neighbor Brenda Thurman could remember was his habit of going jogging at night wearing all black. He told her he didn’t like the sunlight, she said.

At home, he sometimes wore ankle-length traditional Muslim garb, said Ms. Thurman, who lived next to Mr. Shahzad for more than three years, but he wore a shirt and tie to work. He would leave the house in the morning in a burgundy car and return in the evening.

Sometimes, relatives would come to visit, she said, driving cars with New York license plates.

Ms. Thurman’s daughter occasionally played with his daughter. Then one day last May, Mr. Shahzad disappeared. His wife, two children and his wife’s two sisters-who also lived in the house-held a tag sale in July. … Then her neighbors were gone. She didn’t know where they went. The house has sat empty since then, [Ms. Thurman] said.

“He was a little weird,” she said. “I didn’t know he was that damn weird.”

Other real-estate brokers and a lawyer who worked with Mr. Shahzad described him as soft-spoken, well-dressed and intelligent, but very reserved.

After leaving his home in Shelton, Mr. Shahzad spent some of his time at a three-story, beige building on Sheridan Street in Bridgeport, Conn. Neighbors said he didn’t appear to live there. He didn’t stay overnight, but would come for short visits and leave.

“He would come, maybe stay for 20 minutes,” said Taquana Staples, 22 years old, who lives a few houses down. “He didn’t come around that much. He wasn’t suspicious. He kept to himself.” She said she hadn’t seen him in several weeks.

Some neighbors said they were evacuated by the FBI Monday night and only able to return Tuesday morning. The apartment had a for-rent sign posted in the front yard.

Ms. Staples said the materials that authorities hauled out of the apartment made it seem like a storage space. “It’s very scary to see what they brought out of the house,” she said, referring to wires.

Mr. Shahzad received two degrees from the University of Bridgeport-a B.A. in 2000 in computer science and engineering, and an M.B.A. in 2005. Professors there said they had been discussing Mr. Shahzad for much of Tuesday morning, trying to recall what he was like, yet few were able to remember. …

Ward Thrasher, director of the M.B.A. program, said he only remembered Mr. Shahzad’s name, and that Mr. Shahzad took longer than most to complete his degree, because he was taking only one or two classes a semester.

“There are kids who over the years make an impression on faculty and advisers,” Mr. Thrasher said. “This kid doesn’t appear to have impressed anyone, favorably or unfavorably.”

Mr. Shahzad is the son of retired Air Vice Marshall Baharul Haq, a former top Pakistani air force officer and deputy director general of the civil aviation authority, according to Kifyat Ali, a cousin of Mr. Shahzad’s father. Mr. Ali, who spoke to the Associated Press, said Mr. Shahzad “was never linked to any political or religious party here” in Peshawar.

Law-enforcement officers were seen at a Bridgeport mosque Tuesday morning, but so far authorities have revealed no evidence that religious extremism motivated Mr. Shahzad, nor have acquaintances recalled him voicing extremist views.

Mr. Shahzad initially lived in the U.S. under visas designed to facilitate his education and employment. In December 1998, he was granted an F-1 student visa. Immigration officials noted then there was “no derogatory information” on him in any database, a law enforcement official said.

He first attended Southeastern University in Washington, D.C., a small school that lost its accreditation [and closed] last year. In 2000, Mr. Shahzad transferred to the University of Bridgeport.

In April 2002, he was granted an H1-B visa for skilled workers; he stayed in the U.S. for three years on that visa, gaining his M.B.A. It is not clear what company sponsored the visa, which is used to attract workers with a “specialty occupation,” such as information technology.

Mr. Shahzad worked in Norwalk, Conn., for international marketing firm Affinion Group from 2006 to June 2009, according to Affinion spokesman James Hart, and left the firm “of his own accord.” He was a junior financial analyst, Mr. Hart said, one of 50 such analysts at the 3,500-employee firm that helps larger companies offer royalty point programs and runs a leisure travel agency.

“He definitely was very regimented and cared very much about what he did,” said Timothy Dileo, 43, of Norwalk, who said he worked with Mr. Shahzad at Affinion for a year and a half until January 2009. “He was always a very nice person,” Mr. Dileo added, but never talked about his personal life.

“We’ve reached out to the federal government and are providing all of the assistance they need,” Mr. Hart said, adding that government investigators have begun interviewing employees who knew Mr. Shahzad.

On Oct. 20, 2008, Mr. Shahzad reported his marriage to a woman he identified as Huma Asif Mian, a U.S. citizen. He became naturalized as a U.S. citizen on April 17, 2009.

On her social networking page, his wife listed her languages as English, Pashto, Urdu and French, her religion as Muslim and her political views as “nonpolitical,” according to AP. Her favorite television shows were “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Friends.”

While law enforcement officials don’t have exhaustive details of his travels after he was naturalized, one trip in particular stands out: He left New York on June 2, 2009, on an Emirates flight to Dubai. He stayed overseas for eight months, including in Pakistan, and returned on Feb. 3, 2010, on another Emirates flight from Dubai.

Mr. Shahzad was arrested late Monday on board an Emirates flight from New York City to Dubai. He was bound for Islamabad, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

-Keith Johnson, Siobhan Gorman and Amir Efrati contributed to this article.

Write to Josh Barbanel at josh.barbanel@wsj.com , Andrew Grossman at andrew.grossman@wsj.com and Sumathi Reddy at sumathi.reddy@wsj.com.

Copyright 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at wsj.com.

Questions

1. a) What country is Mr. Shahzad from?
b) When did Mr. Shahzad become an American citizen?
c) How did Mr. Shahzad obtain his citizenship?

2. How did Shahzad originally come to the U.S.? How was he able to stay after that time?

3. What do people who know Faisal Shahzad say about him?
a) Igor Djuric, real estate broker
b) Brenda Thurman, neighbor
c) other real estate brokers and a lawyer who worked with him
d) Taquana Staples, neighbor to the three-story building in Bridgeport that Shahzad would visit for 20 minutes at a time
e) Ward Thrasher, director of the M.B.A. program at the University of Bridgeport where Shahzad got his M.B.A.
f) Timothy Dileo, co-worker

4. In paragraphs 22-23, it is reported that so far authorities have revealed no evidence that religious extremism motivated Mr. Shahzad, nor have acquaintances recalled him voicing extremist views, and that immigration officials noted that there was “no derogatory information” on him in any database, a law enforcement official said. Shahzad obviously is an extremist – what do you think his motive was for concealing these views?

5. a) If a man viewed as a “nice person” who has not displayed any evidence of Islamic extremism could commit such a horrible act of terrorism, how can/should authorities protect Americans without the U.S. becoming a police state? Should new immigration policies be implemented? Should student and work visas be put on hold for students/workers from certain countries?
b) If this one man was able to almost kill and injur many people in NYC, what preventative steps can law enforcement take?
c) In what ways can U.S. citizens be vigilant in providing information to the FBI etc.?


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Background

(from telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/7681030/Profile-Faisal-Shahzad-accused-Times-Square-bomber.html)

A 10-page criminal complaint accuses Shahzad of the following:

  • attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction
  • attempting to kill people through international terrorism
  • carrying a destructive device
  • transporting explosives
  • attempting to destroy a building

(from washingtontimes.com/news/2010/may/05/ny-bomb-suspect-trained-in-pakistan):

  • A five count criminal complaint filed May 4 in U.S. district Court in New York said Mr. Shahzad, 30, did “willfully and knowingly” try to kill and maim people inside the united States and created a “substantial risk of serious bodily injury to others.”
  • The complaint said that after receiving bomb-making training in Pakistan, Mr. Shahzad traveled to the United States, drove a Nissan Pathfinder to Times Square and attempted to detonate explosive and incendiary devices inside the vehicle. It said the sport utility vehicle contained three full propane gas tanks, two 5-gallon gasoline canisters and several plastic bags containing fertilizer, as well as 152 M-88 fireworks and two alarm clocks.
  • U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. called Shahzad’s plan “a terrorist plot aimed at murdering Americans in one of the busiest places in this country.” and said “Make no mistake – although this car bomb failed to properly detonate – this plot was a serious attempt. If successful, it could have resulted in a lethal terrorist attack causing death and destruction in the heart of New York City.”
  • Immigration records show Mr. Shahzad moved to the United States in 1998 on a student visa. He attended now-closed Southeastern University in Washington, D.C., before transferring to the University of Bridgeport, where he graduated in 2000 with a degree in computer applications and information systems. He received a master’s degree in business administration at the school in 2005.
  • He was married in 2008 [to a Pakistani-American] and became a naturalized citizen on April 17, 2009.