Faisal Shahzad: 'Nice Guy' Turned Terrorism Suspect

A former home of Faisal Shahzad is seen Tuesday in Shelton, Conn. i i

hide captionPolice tape surrounds a home in Shelton, Conn., where Faisal Shahzad once lived with his family, on Tuesday. The house had been foreclosed on. The Pakistani-American is accused of planting a car bomb in New York's Times Square.

Daniel Barry/Getty Images
A former home of Faisal Shahzad is seen Tuesday in Shelton, Conn.

Police tape surrounds a home in Shelton, Conn., where Faisal Shahzad once lived with his family, on Tuesday. The house had been foreclosed on. The Pakistani-American is accused of planting a car bomb in New York's Times Square.

Daniel Barry/Getty Images
  • Faisal Shahzad, who is suspected of driving an explosives-laden SUV into Times Square, was taken into custody just before midnight Monday.
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    Faisal Shahzad, who is suspected of driving an explosives-laden SUV into Times Square, was taken into custody just before midnight Monday.
    orkut.com
  • Shahzad, a Pakistan-born U.S. citizen, is suspected of having acted alone.
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    Shahzad, a Pakistan-born U.S. citizen, is suspected of having acted alone.
    orkut.com
  • Shahzad, 30, lived in Connecticut with his wife and two children. He recently returned from several months in Pakistan. [This photo has been digitally altered.]
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    Shahzad, 30, lived in Connecticut with his wife and two children. He recently returned from several months in Pakistan. [This photo has been digitally altered.]
    orkut.com
  • A Pakistani youth pushes his cart past the locked residence of  Shahzad in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Wednesday. Pakistan detained two people linked to the attempted car bombing and pledged to cooperate with the U.S.
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    A Pakistani youth pushes his cart past the locked residence of Shahzad in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Wednesday. Pakistan detained two people linked to the attempted car bombing and pledged to cooperate with the U.S.
    Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images
  • Shahzad lived in the second-floor apartment of this house in Bridgeport, Conn.
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    Shahzad lived in the second-floor apartment of this house in Bridgeport, Conn.
    Mark Lennihan/AP
  • FBI agents inspect evidence in the garage of a house in Bridgeport, Conn., on Tuesday.
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    FBI agents inspect evidence in the garage of a house in Bridgeport, Conn., on Tuesday.
    Mark Lennihan/AP
  • This graphic shows the positioning of charges in the Nissan Pathfinder allegedly driven by Shahzad and left in Times Square.
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    This graphic shows the positioning of charges in the Nissan Pathfinder allegedly driven by Shahzad and left in Times Square.
    U.S. Department of Justice via Getty Images
  • A still photo from a surveillance camera shows the bomb-laden Nissan Pathfinder driving through crowds of people Saturday in Times Square.
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    A still photo from a surveillance camera shows the bomb-laden Nissan Pathfinder driving through crowds of people Saturday in Times Square.
    Henny Ray Abrams/AP
  • This photo, released by the New York City Police Department, shows one of the alarm clocks found in the Nissan Pathfinder.
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    This photo, released by the New York City Police Department, shows one of the alarm clocks found in the Nissan Pathfinder.
    Henny Ray Abrams/AP
  • New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly (center) speaks Tuesday at the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C., regarding the investigation into the attempted bombing.
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    New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly (center) speaks Tuesday at the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C., regarding the investigation into the attempted bombing.
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  • Lance Orton (right), the street vendor who alerted police to the bomb in Times Square, shakes hands with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn at a New York firehouse Tuesday. Orton is being hailed as a hero for his role in notifying the police.
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    Lance Orton (right), the street vendor who alerted police to the bomb in Times Square, shakes hands with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn at a New York firehouse Tuesday. Orton is being hailed as a hero for his role in notifying the police.
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Before last summer, Faisal Shahzad seemed to have everything a newly minted U.S. citizen might want. In the 10 years since arriving from Pakistan, he'd accumulated college degrees, a job, a home, a family. Now he's charged with setting a car bomb to explode in New York's Times Square. Investigators say he admitted to getting explosives training on a return trip to Pakistan. It's not yet known exactly how or why, but somehow this successful citizen's life turned sour.

At the age of 29, Shahzad had a recently built suburban home in Shelton near Bridgeport, Conn., and a wife and two kids. He got along with his neighbors. "He was a nice guy as far as I knew," says neighbor Fred BoosKay.

Ten years earlier, Shahzad had come from Pakistan on a student visa, and he made the most of it. He got a computer science degree, then an MBA, then a job as a financial analyst with the company Affinion, an international marking firm that "works with some of the largest companies in the world to become more engaged with their customers," according to company spokesman Michael Bush.

He had all of that — and U.S. citizenship, too — before last summer. That's when he turned 30, and it all began to unravel.

He quit his job. The bank foreclosed on his suburban home. He took the family to Pakistan and left them there. When he returned to the U.S. a few months ago, his life was completely different. He was alone. He rented a cheap place in a rundown neighborhood of Bridgeport. His next-door neighbors didn't even know he was alive.

"We've never seen nobody coming out of the house ... or coming in," says neighbor Lavonne Muse. "We really thought it was vacant. We didn't know people was living there."

Others who spotted Shahzad in the past few months say he acted strangely: running in the dark, blasting a radio day and night — and, investigators say, assembling a car bomb from propane, gasoline and fireworks.

So what happened last summer to Shahzad to flip him from family man to suspected terrorist?

Bruce Hoffman, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University, says it has become a pattern in these kinds of cases for suspects to have recently traveled back to their homeland "and then, either before that trip, during that trip, perhaps upon their return, are suddenly radicalized and become involved in a terrorist plot."

Even before he went to Pakistan, there were signs that all was not well with Shahzad. The family had fallen behind in their house payments and were trying to sell. They were being sued for not paying an energy bill. The Wall Street Journal quotes a real estate agent who heard Shahzad say his father was sick and he needed to return to Pakistan to take care of him.

The home of Faisal Shahzad (second from right) is seen Tuesday in Bridgeport, Conn. i i

hide captionAfter returning from a trip to Pakistan, Shahzad moved — without his family — into the house second from the right in Bridgeport, Conn.

Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images
The home of Faisal Shahzad (second from right) is seen Tuesday in Bridgeport, Conn.

After returning from a trip to Pakistan, Shahzad moved — without his family — into the house second from the right in Bridgeport, Conn.

Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

Hoffman says a trail of debt is not uncommon in cases of suspected terrorism. "Many of these individuals believe it's entirely permissible to in essence defraud the Western societies they live in and to use whatever money they have to run up credit card debt, to take out loans that they have no intention of repaying."

Still, neighbors say the turnaround in Shahzad's life seemed to happen so quickly. One day the family was holding a tag sale on their lawn, and soon after they were gone. Their foreclosed home in Shelton still has trash and forgotten items strewn inside and out: a music CD, an old passport from Pakistan, discarded greeting cards and a transcript from college showing that Shahzad apparently had a 2.78 grade point average.

Now that he's in custody, all of that discarded past is catching up to him. Investigators spent Tuesday removing evidence from Shahzad's former life.

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