Holder, Napolitano Briefing on the Times Square Suspect

Holder, Napolitano Briefing on the Times Square Suspect

By Eric Holder & Janet Napolitano - May 4, 2010

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Faisal Shahzad was arrested late last night in connection with his alleged role in the attempted car bombing in Times Square last Saturday. Shahzad, a naturalized United States citizen, born in Pakistan, is in federal custody today. He has been and continues to be questioned by federal agents. As a result of those communications, Shahzad has provided useful information to authorities.

We anticipate charging him with an act of terrorism transcending national borders, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, use of a destructive device during the commission of another crime, as well as assorted explosives charges.

Now I want to emphasize that this investigation is ongoing, and we continue to pursue a number of leads as we gather useful intelligence related to the terrorist attack.

Based on what we know so far, it is clear that this was a terrorist plot aimed at murdering Americans in one of the busiest places in our country. We believe that this suspected terrorist fashioned a bomb from rudimentary ingredients, placed it in a rusty SUV, and drove it into Times Square with the intent to kill as many innocent tourists and theater goers as possible.

Make mistake -- make no mistake: although this car bomb failed to properly detonate, this plot was a very serious attempt. If successful, it could have resulted in a lethal terrorist attack, causing death and destruction in the heart of New York City. It is a stark reminder of the reality that we face today in this country. The reality that there is a constant threat from those who wish to do us harm simply because of our way of life. There are organized terrorist networks that are targeting us. There are lone terrorists here at home and abroad who are targeting us. As months, even years go by without a successful terrorist attack, the most dangerous lesson that we can draw is a false impression that this threat no longer exists. It does.

And the Department of Justice and our partners in the national security community have no higher priority than disrupting those attempts and bringing those who plot them to justice. In this case, that is exactly what the dedicated agents and prosecutors from the department and various law enforcement agencies have achieved through exemplary investigative efforts. Over the last two days men and women from the FBI, the Department of National Security division and U.S. attorneys offices worked with NYPD, DHS, and state and local partners to doggedly track the evidence in this case. The quick action from FBI agents was critical to alerting Customs and Border Patrol agents, who ultimately arrested him last night at JFK Airport as he was attempting to flee the country.

FBI agents have been able to glean additional evidence from searching Shahzad's car and home. And they continue to work with their state and local counterparts in New York, Connecticut, and other jurisdictions to gather evidence and intelligence related to this case.

We're also coordinating with other members of the president's national security team to ensure that we use every resource available to bring everyone responsible to justice.

These agents and prosecutors are the back of our national security efforts, many of them doing their jobs outside the spotlight of the media. I want to commend them for their results in this case and their unwavering commitment to their jobs. We owe them our gratitude and our respect.

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to remind all Americans how important it is to remain vigilant. The SUV in Times Square was first noted by an alert bystander who reported it to authorities. By being aware of his surroundings and by thinking quickly, he helped save lives and thwarted a potentially devastating attack. As always -- as always, anyone who notices any suspicious activity should report it to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.

I would like to turn it over to Secretary Napolitano.


As you know, late last night U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents at New York's JFK Airport apprehended and detained Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized United States citizen, in connection with Saturday night's failed bombing attempt in Times Square.

Due to the vigilance of CBP officers, working with all of our law enforcement partners, and relying on enhanced DHS security measures, CBP was able to quickly identify, apprehend the suspect.

I want to express my gratitude to all of the federal, state, local law-enforcement personnel whose cooperation and hard work on this case led to the swift identification and apprehension of Shahzad. This was a great team effort, and law enforcement work in this case was truly exemplary.

In particular, I'd like to thank the dedicated men and women of the Department of Homeland Security, whose work on the case was instrumental in a apprehending this suspect. Customs and Border Protection successfully apprehended the suspect after its agents and analysts had been tracking outbound flights for potential suspect for the past three days.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents served on important role in the joint terrorism task force in New York, as the lead law- enforcement agency on the international aspects of the investigation, interviewing witnesses and running down leads.

The Transportation Security Administration was conducting targeted operations at regional and international airports designed to identify and apprehend a potential suspect.

I'd also like to give special thanks to the alert citizens in New York City whose crucial tips helped authorities prevent what could have been a deadly explosion. What happened on Saturday shows the critical role that the American people play in the security of our country. If anybody ever had any doubt about it, this failed bombing attempt clearly shows the value of the saying, if you see something, say something. Thank you.

And now I'd like to turn it over to Assistant Director John Pistole.


And good afternoon. I want to also commend the men and women who have worked around the clock literally since Saturday to find those responsible for what could have been a deadly attack. A host of agencies, departments, and individuals working together toward a single goal.

Our collective success unraveling this plot comes down to using traditional law-enforcement techniques, such as federal court- authorized search warrants, along with intelligence-based authorities to maximize our evidence and intelligence gathering. Using these techniques, we were collectively able to identify Mr. Shahzad as a person who purchased the 1993 Pathfinder depicted in the back of the room.

CBP identified his extensive overseas travel, which led to expanded investigative steps, enabling us to fully identify and locate and eventually arrest Shahzad.

A key step in this process occurred yesterday when Shahzad was placed on the no-fly list. As the secretary mentioned, CBP did an outstanding job identifying him as person on the JFK flight last night.

Joint terrorism task force agents and officers from NYPD interviewed Mr. Shahzad last night and early this morning under the public safety exception to the Miranda Rule. He was, as the attorney general noted, cooperative and provided valuable intelligence and evidence. He was eventually transported to another location, Mirandized and continued talking. So, we in the FBI, with our law enforcement and intelligence partners, here at home and around the world, continue to investigate this matter.

We are conducting a forensic examination of all evidence collected by NYPD at the scene. Much of the evidence has been transferred to the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, so we can test the individual chemical composition of the material and the explosive device. We also want to test the potential impact of the device to ascertain what would have happened had it worked as intended. We, of course, are working with our law enforcement intelligence partners to uncover all possible ties this particular individual has or may have had to radical extremism or terrorist organizations, both at home and overseas. And we're pursuing every lead in that regard.

As all -- always -- and as always -- we are seeking out those who would orchestrate these kind of attacks. Prevention will continue to be our in-game, so I, too, would like to add our thanks the vigilant citizen, like the vendors who first noticed the suspicious vehicle.

This investigation, like others we've handled in the past year, once again reminds us that our work is not finished, and we will continue to work with our partners and our citizens across the country to find and stop those who do us harm.

Thank you. I'll turn it over to Commissioner Kelly.

RAY KELLY, NYC POLICE COMMISSIONER: Thank you, John. I think New Yorkers can rest a little easier today, and that's due in no small measure to the investigative muscle of FBI agents and New York City police detectives, not to mention the eagle-eyed work of the customs officials on duty last evening at JFK Airport. I particularly also want to commend Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York and all the very able assistance, very closely with the attorney general, not just on this case, but everyday to make certain that criminals in the southern district of New York are brought to justice.

Now, this Nissan Pathfinder in Times Square had a license plate from another vehicle. The VIN number on the dashboard had been removed. The break in this case took place when the New York City detective was able to go under the vehicle and get the hidden VIN number. This identified the owner of record, who in turn, as we know, sold it to the suspect, who drove it right into the heart of Times Square.

Now, this is deja vu because the World Trade Center attack in 1993 had similar set of facts, where a detective was able to get the VIN number off the Ryder truck that had exploded there. And if you recall, the bombers were arrested when they returned to get their deposit.

But they would have been no engine block to examine if it wasn't for the heroic work of the New York City bomb squad detectives. It was a very hot evening. They suited up in very oppressive gear, which I'm sure everyone saw, and they worked tirelessly through that evening, all through the next day.

So, if you look at the components, the timer, the gasoline cans, the M-88s, the propane tank, the gun box, put all of that together, that lethal assembly really made a very big hurt locker. And it wasn't until all of the parts of the bomb were taken down that we were able to tow that vehicle to a forensic garage.

Now, by my calculation, from the time Faisal Shahzad drove into and across Broadway and parked that vehicle, so when he was apprehended last evening at the JFK Airport, it was 53 hours and 20 minutes. Now, we know that Jack Bauer can do it in 24 minutes (sic). But in the real world, 53 is a pretty good number.

So, I want to congratulate everyone who had a role in this very important investigation, and really the fact that it was done in record time. And true, we can breathe easier, but we always have to be vigilant because in the eyes of a terrorist, New York is America, and they want to come back to kill us.

Thank you.

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Take any questions that you might have.

QUESTION: Attorney General, you said that the suspect provided useful information. Can you tell us whether he's provided any clarity as to whether he acted alone or acted in concert with others? Has he implicated anybody else?

HOLDER: The investigation is on going. I wouldn't want to reveal at this point anything of the information we've gleaned from him, other than to say that he has been talking to us and providing useful information.

QUESTION: Has he admitted involvement in this?

HOLDER: He has done that.

QUESTION: There are reports that there have been arrests in Pakistan related to this incident. Is that correct? If so, how many? And do you anticipate further arrests in this country?

HOLDER: As I said, the investigation is ongoing. And we -- our aim is to determine who exactly was involved in this matter to bring all those people who are involved to justice. I'm not aware of what the exact situation is with regard to the facts you talked about in Pakistan.

QUESTION: You're not aware of any arrests in Pakistan at this point?

HOLDER: I've heard reports, but I'm not in a position to confirm them.

QUESTION: "South Park" theory still on the table or is that gone? (AUDIO GAP)

HOLDER: The investigation is ongoing. I wouldn't want to talk about what we have -- where we are with regard to that.

QUESTION: How was he able to still get on the plane and have the plane depart from the gate when he was placed on the no-fly list? JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I won't get into details of timing at no-fly. But the way he was apprehended was that -- particularly since Christmas, CBP has been instituting a number of rules that enable us to further check against new data or information that is provided, even very recent information, against passenger manifests on planes.

And they had been working, as you might imagine, around the clock -- this one -- and so as new data was supplied over the course of the investigation yesterday, they were able to match it once the plane manifest was complete, go on the plane and arrest him.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, are you saying if this had happened before Christmas, that plane may have taken off?

NAPOLITANO: No, I'm not saying that, Mike. What I'm saying is that in this particular case, some of the new rules were particularly useful in allowing us to arrest him before the plane took off.

QUESTION: Mr. Attorney General, can I ask you a question? There are local reports in Colorado suggesting this case may be related to the Zazi case, there might be something (INAUDIBLE). Have you found any of that? And there was talk about extensive travel, Mr. Shahzad's extensive travel overseas. Are you guys looking into whether he may have had some sort of military training or contacts with known terrorists?

HOLDER: We're examining a whole variety of things in connection with the questions that are being put to him and the questions that he is answering. We want to know as much as we can about his background, where he's gone, what he's done and so all of those things are being explored.

QUESTION: What about the Zazi case?

HOLDER: No comment on that. But I don't have any basis to believe, at least at this point, that there's any connection.

QUESTION: General Holder (sic), do you believe the suspect came to the U.S. with the intent of doing this?

HOLDER: I wouldn't want to comment on that. As I said, the investigation is ongoing, and we'll need to continue our interaction with him.

QUESTION: Was the suspect under surveillance, and did there come a point when he dropped off the radar yesterday?

PISTOLE: The number of individuals have come up in this investigation, and Mr. Shahzad was one that we identified as somebody that we would like to find out more information about. So, during the course of the investigation from Saturday night we identified him as a person that we would like to talk to.

We were able to locate him away from his house, which you saw on the news, Bridgeport, Connecticut, there. And then we were able to provide that information, as the secretary mentioned, to CBP for proper handling and other agencies in case he was stopped in another context. The bottom line was we were able to identify, locate, and then detain Mr. Shahzad.

QUESTION: One quick follow up. In terms of the travel of people to other areas where known terrorists are known to congregate, can someone talk about how the U.S. government has attempted to track those types of people? And what more can be done in that regard when they return to the United States?

PISTOLE: I can just comment from the FBI's perspective. And part of interagency, there are a number of steps taken to identify potential terrorists. Whether that's the country from which they originate in terms of terrorist training camps or the individuals they associate with. And obviously, to go into detail which might get into sources of methods of how those individuals might be identified, would not be appropriate.

QUESTION: We understand that when he returned from Pakistan he understands went a secondary screening after his last trip, and that contributed in some way to his arrest. Why was he screened when he came back and what was learned?

NAPOLITANO: Without getting into a lot of detail, he was screened when he came back because some of the targeting rules applied. He was subjected to secondary screening. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen. And I'm just going to leave it at that.

QUESTION: You gave us a diagram of the bomb itself. Looking at this, what is your professional assessment? Is this an example of somebody who has had bomb making training, or is this kind of winging it?

PISTOLE: There are a number of opinions on that. You've heard most of them, I think. It does not appear, from our opinion, to be the most sophisticated device. There are a number of opportunities for the device to fail. There are actually three different components that could have been operational, but as was noted, certain portions such as the M-88s ignited but not the main charges of either the gasoline or the propane tanks.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) -- aspirational and operational, as someone once said?

PISTOLE: Well, he clearly had the intent to do harm. It's a question of whether his training and knowledge and the material that he had to the point of the fertilizer. The assessment -- the initial assessment is that it was probably not a sufficient grade to cause the type of explosion such as we saw, obviously the ammonium nitrate in fuel oil in Oklahoma City. So, clearly not that contents.

QUESTION: How long was he questioned under the public safety exception to Miranda -- and maybe the attorney general or somebody can walk us through the decision to terminate that and who made that decision and why? PISTOLE: From the FBI perspective, we won't go into detail in terms of how long. That's obviously a significant issue right now. Suffice to say that he provided valuable information and intelligence and evidence during that time. And then as the attorney general noted, he was Mirandized later and continued to cooperate and provide valuable information.

QUESTION: Attorney General, how close were you to losing him?

HOLDER: Well, I think obviously there was high confidence in CBP and their ability to do the job. They went beyond what I think most people would expect in terms of just checking -- is that what you were asking?

QUESTION: How close were you to losing him? I think you mentioned earlier you identified him by Saturday night. Is that correct? That early?

HOLDER: No. Sunday night.

QUESTION: Sunday night.

QUESTION: Attorney General Holder, could you answer the question about how close you were to losing him?

PISTOLE: I'm not sure to what you're referring.

QUESTION: How close were you to losing him when he was on that flight?

NAPOLITANO: Once he was -- they pulled him off -- they pulled the flight back, as you know, to the gate. They also had the authority, if the flight had actually taken off, to order the plane to turn around and come back.

HOLDER: Attorney General, I was here all yesterday and through much of last night, and was aware of the tracking that was going on. I was never in any fear that we were in danger of losing him.

QUESTION: Could you tell us whether or not New York is still under consideration for holding the terrorist end (ph) and other terror trials and, if so, does this incident give you pause in that respect?

HOLDER: Well, I think, unfortunately, New York and Washington, D.C. remain targets of people who would do this nation harm. Regardless of where a particular trial is, where a particular event is going to occur, I think that is going to remain true and is why we have to be especially vigilant in New York as well as in Washington.

We are considering a number of options with regard to where that trial might be held. I'll leave it at that.

QUESTION: New York is still among those that you're considering.

HOLDER: (OFF-MIKE) Yes. QUESTION: Commissioner Kelly, could you address whether this incident highlights any additional vulnerabilities in Midtown? Should there be more cameras, should there be additional resources put towards that?

KELLY: We had a lot of police officers and have today certainly on patrol in Times Square. This individual drove his vehicle up very quickly and left very quickly. But police officers were right immediately on the scene there. So you know, to that extent, we were present.

Would we like more cameras there? Yes. As a matter of fact, we have a program that, you know, we hope to have funded where we will take our Lomanhat (ph) security initiative, which consists of 3,000 cameras, public and private sector cameras, and migrate that program up to midtown Manhattan, from 30th Street to 60th Street. So, that's our goal. We have plans to do that. But sure, we would like more cameras.

QUESTION: Are you getting any more credibility to the claims of responsibility by the Taliban?

KELLY: I would refer that to other people on the panel here.

QUESTION: Mr. Kelly and Attorney General, (INAUDIBLE). Are we in a heightened state now? We had the underwear bomber case, we had the Zazi case targeting the subway system, and for eight years, it didn't seem like we had this pacing of terrorist attempts that were in sort of the final stages. Is it your sense that we're --

KELLY: In New York City, we have had now 11 plots directed at the city since September 11. So, we always see ourselves in a fairly high pace. You know, to a certain extent, nothing has changed in that regard. People coming to New York or planning to New York and trying to hurt us, trying to kill New Yorkers.

QUESTION: Mr. Kelly, can you talk about the cooperation between the FBI and New York City Police Department on this?

KELLY: It's seamless. People ask that question a lot. The answer is the same, and it's true. We are working extremely well together.

QUESTION: Attorney General, you referred to this as a terrorist plot. Can you give us any idea of whether we're talking about three people or more? Or, for example, internationally known terrorist group being part of this?

HOLDER: At this point, I think I'm going to say no more than what I have said in that regard. Okay. Thank you all very much.


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