Calling himself a “Muslim soldier,” Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-born man accused in a failed attempt to ignite a car bomb in New York City's Times Square last month, has pleaded guilty to all ten counts against him.
“I want to plead guilty, and I’m gonna plead guilty 100 times over,” he said at his arraignment Monday in federal court in Manhattan.
He said he intended to injure and kill as many people in Times Square as possible, and had chosen a busy Saturday evening for that reason, he told the court.
Shahzad, 30, was indicted by a federal grand jury last week on 10 different terrorism and weapons counts, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. Two of the charges carry mandatory life sentences.
The former financial analyst, who first came to the United States in 1999 on a student’s visa, answered Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum’s questions for nearly an hour, standing before her with his handcuffs removed. He wore a dark blue prison uniform, a white skullcap, and a full beard.
Speaking in a steady voice, seemingly relaxed, he responded to the judge’s questions with details of his failed attack, including the life that had led up to it.
He had studied at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, he said, ultimately earning a master’s degree in business administration. He married a U.S. citizen and fathered “two beautiful kids,” while working as an accounts and financial analyst, first for cosmetics company Elizabeth Arden, and then for another U.S. company, Affinion Group. The company has said that he left that job of his own accord in 2009.
That was when he returned to his parents’ home in Peshawar, Pakistan, soon after being granted U.S. citizenship. “I tried to figure out how to get to the Taliban,” he said in court, referring to the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-e-Taliban), “to wage an attack inside the U.S.”
After six months, he said, “I went with a couple of friends to Waziristan to join the Taliban.” He spent 40 days training with the group, including five days of bomb-making instruction, beginning on December 9. He had about $5,000 of his own, he said, and the Taliban gave him another $4,900 when he left to finance his plan.
Returning to the U.S. on February 2, he said he spent the next several months alone, preparing the attack. He acquired materials for a car bomb and put it together in his rented apartment in Connecticut. He also asked for and received additional cash from the Taliban to complete the attack.
On May 1, Shahzad drove a Nissan Pathfinder into Times Square, parking it in the most crowded area possible. “I didn’t choose a specific building, but I chose the center of Times Square,” he said.
He ignited the fuses so that the bomb would explode within two and a half to five minutes, and walked away, carrying a disassembled rifle in a laptop case. “I had the gun in case I was captured, for my self-defense,” he said.
But when he heard no sound of an explosion, he assumed the bomb had failed, and took the train back to his Connecticut apartment. Investigators later said that he had used a kind of fertilizer that is not explosive.
Judge Cedarbaum asked Shahzad if he had looked at the people who were walking in Times Square that night. He replied that “the people selected the government. We consider them all the same.”
She asked him if he had intended to hurt and kill many people. “Yes,” he said. “One has to understand where I’m coming from. I consider myself a Mujahideen – a Muslim soldier. I’m part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and Muslim people, and on behalf of that, I am an avenger,” he said.
He listed his grievances against U.S. policy, including drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and the Iraqi occupation. He said that U.S. attacks hurt civilians in other countries. “The U.S. only care[s] about their people, not the other,” he said.
Shahzad said that unless the United States leaves Muslim lands, including Afghanistan and Iraq, “We will be attacking [the] U.S., and I plead guilty to that.”
After two days of watching the news at his Connecticut apartment, Shahzad realized that investigators were closing in on him. On May 3 , he drove to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, where he boarded a plane bound for Pakistan via Dubai. He was arrested before the plane departed.
The judge scheduled his sentencing for October 5.
Pakistani authorities have arrested several people since the attempted attack. Shahzad said that his co-conspirators consisted only of the people whom he met in Pakistan, not others in the U.S.