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Airline Security Scrutinized Again After Arrest of NYC Terror Suspect

May 5, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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U.S. officials are calling for tighter checks of no-fly lists following the arrest of a man accused trying to detonate a bomb in New York City. Jeffrey Brown reports.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Police in New York reportedly recovered surveillance video today of the prime suspect in the Times Square bomb plot. The Associated Press said it shows him walking away from the scene of the attempted attack. And federal authorities pursued answers in the investigation, even as questions abounded about the pursuit and capture of the alleged bomber.

One key question being asked today: How did Faisal Shahzad come so close to leaving the country Monday night? By then, authorities had connected the Pakistani-American to the crude car bomb that failed to explode in Times Square in New York City on Saturday, and they had tracked down his address in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Evan Perez is covering the story for The Wall Street Journal. He says Shahzad was able to slip away, despite heavy surveillance.

EVAN PEREZ, The Wall Street Journal: He had an Isuzu, a black Isuzu, that he drove to the airport. And it’s unclear whether he left out a back entrance, whether he had the car parked down — down the street, whether they just — maybe they just missed it while they were watching the front door. It’s clear that they were sitting there. And up to about an hour before he was arrested, they still thought he was inside the house.

JEFFREY BROWN: New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly acknowledged today that agents lost track of Shahzad, but he played down its significance.

RAYMOND KELLY, New York City police commissioner: I think, you know, he — he was lost for a period of time. That’s not unusual in investigations. I know everybody thinks it’s easy to do, but it’s not particularly easy. You can’t get too close to the individual. You don’t want to tip him off. And these are judgment calls that are made.

JEFFREY BROWN: With the manhunt on, Shahzad was placed on the federal no-fly list. Still, he managed to purchase a ticket for cash on a flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport bound for Dubai. He was already on board when U.S. customs officials spotted his name on the passenger list, and then took him off the plane.

MAN: There was no skirmish. There was no incident of that nature.

JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, reports today said Shahzad told the arresting agents: “I was expecting you. Are you NYPD or FBI?”

As for how he managed to get on the plane, it turned out that Emirates Airlines was only required to check the no-fly list every 24 hours. But today in Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that rule has now changed.

ROBERT GIBBS, White House press secretary: The suspect’s name was entered a little after noon, I believe, on Monday. Therefore, this — though on the no-fly list, the airline didn’t have to check necessarily at that point. The new rules require that that happen at a two-hour interval if airlines are notified that somebody’s been added as a risk to the no-fly list.

JEFFREY BROWN: Meanwhile, the case made headlines in Shahzad’s native Pakistan, but army officials there played down a Taliban claim of involvement.

In New York, federal court documents showed Shahzad confessed to attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan. Investigators said they’re still trying to verify that claim, and a relative in Pakistan insisted it’s not credible.

FAIZ AHMED, relative of Faisal Shahzad (through translator): No, no, no. Faisal Shahzad doesn’t have any link with Taliban groups. We didn’t see any kind of suspicious activities.

JEFFREY BROWN: Back in Washington today, New York Police Commissioner Kelly told a Senate panel that Shahzad’s alleged plot came together two months ago, after he returned from Pakistan.

RAYMOND KELLY: We know that he purchased a weapon in March in — in Connecticut, and he had it with him in the car that he drove to JFK Airport on — on Monday night. So, it appears from some of his other activities that March is when he decided to put this plan in motion.

JEFFREY BROWN: At that same hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham and some other Republicans said another issue is whether to read terror suspects their rights, the so-called Miranda warning.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: What I want to know more about this guy is not how he committed the crime, but what led him to commit the crime and who he worked with. And Miranda warnings are counterproductive, in my view.

JEFFREY BROWN: Federal officials had also faced some criticism for reading Miranda rights to the suspect in the plot to blow up an airliner over Detroit last Christmas.

In the Times Square investigation, Shahzad was interrogated for a time before being read his Miranda rights. Federal officials have said he’s fully cooperating.