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Tracking Money Trail, Feds Arrest 3 More in Times Square Bomb Plot Probe

May 13, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: The FBI staged a series of raids across the Northeast United States today connected to the investigation into the Times Square bomb plot. Attorney General Eric Holder said the three people now in custody are tied to the main suspect in the case.

In one of the raids, police cordoned off a small house in Watertown, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Law enforcement officials said the suspects were from Pakistan, and likely provided money to the alleged mastermind of the Times Square plot, Faisal Shahzad.

Authorities have accused the 30-year-old Shahzad of leaving an SUV loaded with gasoline, propane and fireworks parked in a heavily-trafficked alley earlier this month. But the bomb failed to go off. Shahzad was arrested two days later at New York’s JFK Airport aboard a flight bound for Dubai. He has not been seen in public since, but is reportedly cooperating with officials.

Authorities today also raided a Mobile gas station in Brookline, Massachusetts, another Boston suburb. A silver Honda in the parking lot was searched and agents were seen taking items from the vehicle. Search warrants were also executed at homes on Long Island and several locations in New Jersey.

In Washington, Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed the raids, but said there was no immediate danger.

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. attorney general: These searches are the product of evidence that has been gathered in the investigation since the attempted Times Square bombing, and do not relate to any known immediate threat to the public or active plot against the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick tried to calm the public’s fears.

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK, D-Mass.: Based on all the information and the very, very careful coordination through the joint terrorism task force, there is no basis for believing that there is a threat to — to the people of Massachusetts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Authorities today said the suspects arrested had been under surveillance for some time, but wouldn’t say how long.

And for more, we are joined now by Devlin Barrett. He’s been covering the story for The Wall Street Journal.

Thanks for being with us.

So, what led the authorities to these people in these locations?

DEVLIN BARRETT, The Wall Street Journal: Well, part of what brought them there were — was Mr. Shahzad himself. He’s been cooperating pretty much from the moment of his capture. And part of what led them to these people’s doors is information that Mr. Shahzad provided.

But they have also gotten some corroboration from other things, besides just Mr. Shahzad.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you know what that is?

DEVLIN BARRETT: Well, in most cases, if a suspect tells you they did something, they look for a paper trail to prove that or some other evidence or phone records to prove that.

My guess is, they have found other things in Mr. Shahzad’s belongings and his electronic trail that corroborated that claim.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do we know anything about these people they picked up today or these locations?

DEVLIN BARRETT: Law enforcement sources tell me that what these men essentially are, are people who arrange financial movements within the immigrant community.

There’s different ways to do that, money remittances. There’s other ways to do it as well. And what these people apparently did was, in some fashion, help Mr. Shahzad get thousands of dollars, I was told perhaps slightly more than $10,000 total. And, so, what they want to try to understand now is, did those people who helped him get that money have any idea what the actual source of the money was, and did they have any idea what the intent of that money was?

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the attorney general, Eric Holder, said today that was something they were still working on finding out.

DEVLIN BARRETT: Right. These raids are not the conclusion of this part of the case. They are working — still working to piece together, follow the money trail from the U.S. back to oversees.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what are they charging these individuals with?

DEVLIN BARRETT: At the moment, they haven’t been charged in public court with anything. What — they’re being held on suspicion of immigration violations. That’s something that’s fairly vague and general and gives them the opportunity to detain them and presumably question them on the Times Square cases, which is what they’re most concerned about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it known, Devlin Barrett, where this money was coming from?

DEVLIN BARRETT: That’s a big part of the case that they’re trying to nail down.

They know — they think they know that these men arranged the money to go to Mr. Shahzad, but that was essentially how they were viewed in the immigrant community. They really want to know, well, who gave the money originally to get to him?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it a — is it known that these — were these individuals already known to authorities? Because the authorities know that there are these kinds of, as you say, immigrant financial transactions going on.

DEVLIN BARRETT: The way it’s been described to me, these folks were not necessarily on investigators’ radar before this case.

But one of the things that investigators always look for is, OK, if we have learned of a few people that may be doing something wrong or on the shady side, let’s say, let’s see what else they’re doing and see if there are any other things that — activities going on that we need to be concerned about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we heard several assurances from Governor Patrick and others that people don’t have anything to be worried about. How confident are they, though, of that? Are they — what are they basing that on?

DEVLIN BARRETT: Right. Well, remember the basic premise here.

The basic premise of what they did today is, they don’t really know ultimate — they don’t really have any evidence right now to say these men knew they were helping a terrorist plot an attack. So, for that reason, they have no reason to think at this point that these people are themselves dangerous. But they have a lot more investigating to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And based on everything you have been able to find out, how important a piece of the puzzle is this?

DEVLIN BARRETT: Financing is very important for understanding the full breadth of this case.

Remember, there’s a belief that the Pakistan Taliban is ultimately the origin of this plot. And a big part of the question they have to answer is, well, did they pay for it? Did someone else pay for it? And, if someone else paid for it, why did they pay for it? Did they know what they were paying for?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Did you get any sense in your reporting today or earlier that there are going to be more raids like this, that they have got more leads that they’re following?

DEVLIN BARRETT: There are definitely more leads that they’re following.

I think whether or not there are more raids depends on what they learn today from all the evidence they seize and from the people they talk to that they have detained.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how much are authorities talking?

DEVLIN BARRETT: Well, they’re not talking about people that they want to look further at. You know, we don’t know the names of the three people, for instance. They haven’t publicly said those names, because they’re still trying to determine exactly what their role was and exactly what they knew.

So, they’re being tight-lipped on a number of parts because they have a lot of work to do. This case has gone at warp speed compared to a lot of terrorism investigations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Devlin Barrett with The Wall Street Journal, thanks very much.