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Faisal Shahzad: 'Nice Guy' Turned Terrorism Suspect

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Faisal Shahzad: 'Nice Guy' Turned Terrorism Suspect

National Security

Faisal Shahzad: 'Nice Guy' Turned Terrorism Suspect

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

The investigation of the accused Times Square bomber now stretches across two continents. Faisal Shahzad was arrested after boarding a plane from New York to Dubai. Investigators say the American citizen admits he received training in how to build a bomb during a previous visit to Pakistan.

INSKEEP: Authorities in Pakistan are now making arrests even as U.S. investigators question the suspect. We begin our coverage at Shahzad's home in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

NPR's Robert Smith reports on how a successful immigrant's life changed.

ROBERT SMITH: Something happened to Faisal Shahzad last summer. We dont know what or when exactly, but his world flipped upside down. Before last summer, Shahzad seemed to have everything a newly minted U.S. citizen might want. He had a recently built suburban home in Shelton, Connecticut - a town near Bridgeport - a beautiful wife, two adorable kids, got along with his neighbors, like Fred Busque(ph).

Mr. FRED BUSQUE (Neighbor): He was a nice guy as far as I knew.

SMITH: Shahzad had come from Pakistan 10 years earlier on a student visa and he made the most of it. He had a computer science degree, then an MBA, then a job as a financial analyst with the company Affinion.

Here's their PR guy, Michael Bush.

Mr. MICHAEL USH (Director of Public Relations, Affinion): We're an international marketing firm who works with some of the largest companies in the world to help become more engaged with their customers.

SMITH: All of that, and U.S. citizenship too, all at the age of 29. But when Shahzad turned 30 last summer, it all began to unravel. Shahzad quit his job. The bank foreclosed on that suburban home. He took the family to Pakistan and abandoned them there. When Shahzad got back from Pakistan a few months ago, his life was completely different. He was now alone. He rented a cheap place in a rundown neighborhood of Bridgeport. His neighbors next door didnt even know he was alive.

Ms. LAVON MEWS(ph) (Neighbor): We never seen nobody coming out of the house or anything like that. We never seen people coming in either. We really thought it was vacant. We didnt know people was living there.

SMITH: That's Lavon Mews. Other neighbors that actually spotted Shahzad in the last few months say he was acting strange, running in the dark, blasting a radio day and night, and apparently, according to investigators, assembling a car bomb from propane, gasoline and fireworks.

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

Bruce Hoffman is a professor of security studies at Georgetown University. He says that it's become a pattern in these kind of cases for the suspect to have recently traveled back to their homeland.

Professor BRUCE HOFFMAN (Georgetown University): And then either before that trip, during that trip, perhaps upon their return, are suddenly radicalized and become involved in a terrorist plot.

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

Hoffman says that it's also not uncommon for terrorists to leave a trail of debt behind them.

Prof. HOFFMAN: 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.

SMITH: 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 that they were gone. Their foreclosed home in Shelton still has trash and forgotten items strewn inside and out. I found this music CD next to their yard.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Woman: Be ready for a great journey (Singing in foreign language)

SMITH: Other reporters found Shahzad's old passport from Pakistan, discarded greeting cards, and a transcript from college that showed that Shahzad apparently had a 2.78 grade point average. Now that he's in custody, all of that discarded pass is catching up to him. Investigators spent yesterday removing evidence from Shahzad's former life.

(Soundbite of song)

SMITH: Robert Smith, NPR News.

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