Attempted Times Square Bomber Pleads Guilty

The man accused of trying to set off a car bomb in Times Square faces a possible life sentence when he's sentenced in October. Faisal Shahzad, a U.S. citizen from Pakistan, pleaded guilty to 10 weapons and terrorism charges in federal court Monday.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

We now have a picture of the would-be Times Square bomber in his own words. Faisal Shahzad pleaded guilty yesterday. That was not entirely surprising. We'd heard for weeks that he was cooperating with investigators. It was revealing the way that he described his actions and motivations in detail and in public.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has been covering this story. She's on the line from New York. Dina, good morning.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What was the scene in the courtroom?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, you know, initially we thought it was going to be a rather ordinary arraignment. We expected that he'd just going into the courtroom. And given the fact that he had been providing authorities with details about the plot for weeks, that he was just going to plead guilty and maybe do so in exchange for a reduced sentence. And instead, we got a delay, and then hours later a discussion between Shahzad and U.S. District Judge Miriam Cedarbaum.

He said he wanted to read a statement. And she said, please don't read a statement, just tell me what happened instead. And so he did.

INSKEEP: And this became something of a question and answer session between the suspect and the judge?

TEMPLE-RASTON: A half hour question and answer session. You know, typically when terrorism suspects speak out in open court it can be a little bit ranting. And in this case, Shahzad was really matter of fact. He said he considered himself a Muslim soldier and that he had left an SUV rigged with a bomb in Times Square to avenge U.S. policies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said people were being killed there by U.S. forces, so he was going to kill Americans. And he said until U.S. forces leave Muslims lands - and these are his words - we will be attacking the U.S.

You know, a lot of details of the plot were already reported. It wasn't really anything new in that. But what was remarkable was the calm and collected way he laid out what happened.

INSKEEP: That quote that you just read, "We will be attacking the U.S.," makes me wonder if he expressed any regret at all for what he attempted to do.

TEMPLE-RASTON: There wasn't any at all - no regret. And, in fact, he was a bit defiant. And he actually said that planning this attack was his idea. He had gone to Pakistan, specifically to try and get some sort of explosives training from the Pakistani Taliban, so that he could attack here. And he said the Pakistani Taliban initially gave him $4,000 when he left the training camp to fund this plot. And then he ended up getting another 12,000 more wired to him.

He also explained that the car bomb was really supposed to be several bombs. It was supposed to be a fertilizer bomb and then a set of propane tanks and gas were rigged with fireworks, and that was supposed to create a big fire bomb afterwards.

INSKEEP: Well, how did he describe the moment when he took the one car bomb that he actually made, and parked it there on a Saturday evening in New York City's Times Square?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, you know, he told the judge he lit the fuse and figured it would be about two and half minutes to five minutes before the explosion would happen. So he was sort of hanging around waiting for that to happen. And then when it didn't go off, he said he just walked to Grand Central Station, which is not far from Times Square, and just hopped a train back to Connecticut.

He told the judge he built the bomb by himself and he said he knew if the bomb went off he'd be killing women and children. But he said drone attacks were killing women and children in Pakistan and Afghanistan. So as far as he was concerned, they were fair game here, too.

INSKEEP: Did he help himself in any way by making this detailed confession, but also expressing no regret? Is he going to get, in any way, a lighter sentence out of this?

TEMPLE-RASTON: It's unclear. I mean the Justice Department went to great lengths to say that the investigation is ongoing and that there was no plea agreement with Shahzad. And he mentioned co-conspirators so there could other people arrested, as well. I mean he pleaded guilty to all 10 counts against him, including conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and transporting explosives. And those are the kinds of crimes that have mandatory life sentences with them.

So his cooperation with the authorities in this case probably is not going to do him much good. His sentencing is set for October 5th, so we'll really find out then.

INSKEEP: Well, now we know, from a public statement, some of the things that Faisal Shahzad had told investigators in private in the past. When you think about everything that's been learned about this case, what if anything, Dina Temple-Raston, have investigators learned that they might be able to apply to other terrorism cases?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I think they've learned something about how someone who's here in the United States can travel to Pakistan and actually get training from terrorists there, in the region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And knowing as much as you can about that sort of jihadi pipeline is important if you're trying to shut it off.

INSKEEP: Dina, thanks very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston in New York City.

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