JIM LEHRER: The man who tried to set off a bomb in the heart of New York City will spend the rest of his life behind bars. The formal sentencing came today in a federal court in Manhattan.
Faisal Shahzad had already pleaded guilty in the Times Square bomb plot, and his life sentence was mandatory. But he remained defiant today in court. In his statement, the 31-year-old Pakistani-American said, “Brace yourselves, because the war with Muslims has just begun.”
Shahzad’s failed plot unfolded last May, when street vendors alerted police to a smoking SUV, a Nissan Pathfinder, on a bustling Saturday night. The bomb squad diffused the car bomb, and police said it was packed with fuel and fireworks.
RAYMOND KELLY, police commissioner, New York City: On the backseat of the vehicle were two full five-gallon red plastic gasoline containers. Between them was a 16-ounce can filled with between 20 and 30 M-88 devices.
JIM LEHRER: Today in court, prosecutors showed video of an FBI test showing what the bomb could have done. Investigators said Shahzad watched live Webcams like this one to pick a site where he could kill as many people as possible.
In a statement today, the head of the FBI’s New York office said Shahzad built a mobile weapon of mass destruction and hoped and intended that it would kill large numbers of innocent people, and planned to do it again two weeks later.
In the event, the would-be bomber was arrested two days after his first attempt as he tried to board a flight to Dubai at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. He has since admitted the Pakistani Taliban trained and financed him. And this Internet video showed him meeting with the head of that group last year.
Ailsa Chang of public radio station WNYC covered today’s sentencing. Ailsa Chang, welcome.
AILSA CHANG, reporter, WNYC: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: What was Shahzad’s tone and demeanor as he made his statement today in the courtroom?
AILSA CHANG: Well, just as you noted in the report, he was extremely defiant from the beginning to the end.
It was almost like a replay of his guilty plea hearing in June, where, from the very get-go, he not only wanted to launch into a speech, but not only wanted to say that he was proud of what he did, but wanted other Muslims to follow his example and also commit violence against Americans.
JIM LEHRER: Did he have — did he have a written speech or did he just stand up and talk?
AILSA CHANG: He did stand up and talk. It sounded like he was reading from a — prepared remarks. He said that: “We are only Muslims. But, if you call us terrorists, we are proud terrorists. And we will keep on terrorizing you.”
He said at another point that the defeat of the U.S. is imminent. Again, at another point, he said, “The U.S. and NATO forces who have occupied Muslim lands, we do not accept your democracy or your freedom, because we already have Sharia law.”
That was the tenor of the entire proceeding. And at multiple points during his speech, Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum tried to interject and interrupt him to try to draw out a colloquy, a conversation between the two of them.
And, at one point, she cut him off and said, “When you were made a naturalized citizen last year, weren’t you supposed to swear your allegiance to this country?”
Shahzad replied, “I did swear, but I did not mean it.” And the only judge replied, “So you took a false oath.” And that was basically the mood of the entire half-hour sentencing hearing today.
JIM LEHRER: The whole thing, you say, lasted 30 minutes from beginning to end?
AILSA CHANG: About.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
AILSA CHANG: That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: And what did the judge have to say? Did the judge direct any comments to him about his crime and what he had done and why he’s going to prison, et cetera?
AILSA CHANG: She certainly did. She said that, obviously, this is a defendant who has not even a tone of, a hint of remorse. He’s someone who would obviously want to repeat his crime if given the chance. And, in this particular case, it was very important to her that she impose the harshest sentence possible in order to deter others who may want to follow in his footsteps.
And — and, in saying these things, she echoed what prosecutors had said in their pre-sentencing memorandum, which they submitted to the court last week. They — they said that Shahzad is somebody who basically needs to be made an example of.
There is a rise in homegrown terrorism across the country. And people like Shahzad, naturalized U.S. citizens, or even American-born citizens, who have U.S. passports and can travel freely throughout the country and the world, who speak fluent English, these are people that are particularly prized assets for foreign terror organizations.
So, it’s particularly in this high-profile case, with a man like Shahzad, who came here from Pakistan and created a life here in the U.S., but became radicalized, and basically adopted a life’s purpose to pursue a terrorist agenda, it’s people like him who really need to be made an example of now, in order to deter others who may want to follow suit.
JIM LEHRER: Was there a lawyer who represented him in any way, who spoke for him, or said anything on his behalf?
AILSA CHANG: Today, his lawyers, the federal defenders, Philip Weinstein, did not make any remarks on his behalf. He ceded the floor to Shahzad, who clearly wanted to speak for several minutes. He told the judge right at the get-go, “I’m going to take five to 10 minutes.”
The judge didn’t let him get through all of his statement. It was almost of a tug of war. She would interrupt him and remind him, “I’m only interested in the comments you have that relate specifically to what sentence you think you deserve.”
And Shahzad would kind of bring her back to the speech that he had prepared and just re-announce his hatred of America and of U.S. policies, and — and his desire to see all Muslims rise up and attack the U.S. until they stop invading Muslim lands.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. But he didn’t speak directly to the idea that he was going to prison for the rest of his life?
AILSA CHANG: He did at the end. The judge asked him — well, when the judge first announced, “I impose a life sentence on you,” the first words out of Shahzad’s mouth was, “Allahu akbar,” which is, in Arabic, “God is great.” It was the first words that escaped from his lips.
And then, when he was asked at the end, “Do you have any final words to say?” Shahzad only replied, “I’m very happy with the deal God has given me.”
There was no sense of regret in his voice. He seemed like someone who was proud to announce what he had done and is perfectly willing to spend the rest of his life in prison because of that.
JIM LEHRER: And, for the record, this is a real life sentence, right? There is no — no way that he could ever be paroled for good behavior or anything like that?
AILSA CHANG: That’s right. That’s right. In fact, Judge Cedarbaum didn’t even want to discuss any provisions for supervised release, because, in her mind, this man is going to spend the rest of his life in prison. One of the counts against him, count six, which was for use of a destructive device in a crime of violence, actually carries a mandatory life sentence.
So, he will be spending the rest of his life in prison, without possibility of parole.
JIM LEHRER: There were about how many people in this — in the courtroom altogether, including reporters, spectators, whatever?
AILSA CHANG: All the rows of seats were filled. I would say maybe close to 100. There weren’t a tremendous amount of spectators just from the general public.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
AILSA CHANG: Most of the courtroom was filled with journalists and what looked to be staff from the U.S. attorney’s office and federal defender’s office and court staff. I didn’t see any supporters of Shahzad in the crowd. That’s for sure.
JIM LEHRER: Generally speaking, a tone of — a quiet tone? Or was it scary or noisy? Or what was it like?
AILSA CHANG: He’s a very soft-spoken man, actually. You really had to strain to hear him, because he was speaking up, so he wasn’t miked directly.
And although his tone was soft-spoken, his words were, you know, extremely aggressive. You know, right at the get-go, he says: “How can I be judged by a court that doesn’t understand the suffering of my people?”
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
AILSA CHANG: “If I’m given 1,000 lives, I will sacrifice them all for the life of Allah.”
But he says it quietly. And, you know, at times, at least in the beginning, he had to confer with his attorney for a bit. But, other than that, he just kept on going with his prepared remarks.
JIM LEHRER: OK. Ailsa Chang, thank you very much.
AILSA CHANG: You’re welcome.