Despite whodunit headlines and a couple wild guesses, there is mounting evidence that the Times Square bomber had one intention the night he dropped his Pathfinder in the path of thousands of New York City tourists: a deadly Jihad.
Faisal Shahzad has already admitted his role in the bomb plot, but the details of his transition from a well-off son of military parents to a potential mass murderer are slowly coming in.
The New York Post has already reported that Shahzad confessed that he wanted to enact revenge on America for U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan. Meanwhile, officials in that country have confirmed that Shahzad met with the Pakistan’s No. 3 Taliban leader during his last visit, according to Fox News.
Fox News is also reporting that Shahzad may have also spent the years before and after obtaining his U.S. citizenship, researching and touring radical Islamic sites:
In many of his posts, the man intelligence officials believe is the Times Square bomber appears to be an eager and inquisitive student, and he frequently engaged in discussions revolving around the ideological argument at the heart of different schools of jihadist thought.
He asked, for example, why a certain fatwa was issued in one instance while one was not in a similar situation. He asked about the specific differences in the beliefs of Salafists around the world, and the reasoning behind them.
He questioned the ideology behind a fatwa issued by the Deobandi school of thought in India. (Deobandi is an extremist South Asian form of Islam; major Taliban leaders attended Deobandi madrassas.)
In other posts, also uncovered by FoxNews.com, a user who also appears to be Shahzad inquired about how to obtain work visas in Italy and Canada. That same person was a member of a Google group that recently circulated a petition opposing a cartoon rendering of Muhammad that appeared in the Australian media.
Before he left his non-religious family in Pakistan to study in the U.S., Shahzad did not appear to be radicalized in any way, relatives and friends said.
According to the AP, upon returning to Pakistan for a five-month trip in October, something in Shahzad in had changed:
“I saw a little change in him. When he was here, he was not religious-minded. But he was when he came back from the United States,” said Nasir Khan, a relative in the family’s ancestral village of Mohib Banda in northwest Pakistan. He said he remembered Shahzad talking about the problems of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The susceptibility of Muslim immigrants — or their offspring — to extremist, violent forms of Islam has long been noted. The most often cited reason for this is the ability of Islam to give people a clear sense of identity in an unfriendly and confusing environment.
“He had a good life back home before he came to the United States, so the question is, ‘What went wrong?'” said Kamran Bokhari, an analyst with STRATFOR, a private security think tank in Austin, Texas. “I suspect he never integrated into mainstream American life and was susceptible to conspiracy theories about Muslims being under threat.”
Unlike the mostly poor Pakistanis who make up the foot soldiers in the insurgency that is ravaging the country, Shahzad is from a wealthy family. His father was a vice marshal in the air force, meaning he would have been given respect as the son of a senior officer in Pakistan’s most powerful institution.
Shahzad has a brother who is a mechanical engineer in Canada, a sister who is a doctor at a hospital in Peshawar, and another sister who previously worked as a school teacher, said Kifyat Ali, a cousin of Shahzad’s father. His wife was an American of Pakistani descent who, according to her page on social networking site Orkut, liked shopping, American TV comedies and “partying every night.”
Khan said Shahzad went to expensive schools, including one in Peshawar, that are mostly attended by the children of army officers. He is also reported to have lived in Karachi in the 1990s when his father, Baharul Haq, retired from the air force and became deputy director of the civil aviation authority.
Abdul Aziz, a retired lieutenant colonel in the air force, said Haq and his family were not religious.
“I have never seen them at prayer; forget about them being tilted to religious extremism,” he said. “I knew Faisal as a shy and humble and decent chap who used to love pets. He used to keep dogs and parrots at his home.”
Intelligence officers say they have detained several people in the country’s commercial capital, Karachi, for links to Shahzad.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed that several people, including some of Shahzad’s family members, had been taken in for questioning but that none had been “formally arrested.”
On Wednesday, an intelligence officer said one of those detained was an activist named Mohammad Rehan, with the al-Qaeda-linked militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad. He was picked up on Tuesday at a mosque associated with the group, said the officer, who asked not to be identified in line with the policy of his agency.
He said authorities believe Rehan may have traveled with Shahzad to Peshawar, a main jumping off point to the Afghan border region. Jaish-e-Mohammad was once believed linked to Pakistani intelligence agencies, which used it to fight in Indian-ruled parts of the Kashmir region.
The day after the Times Square incident, the Pakistani Taliban put out a video claiming responsibility, but U.S. officials have cast doubt on that claim, which if true would be first time it has struck outside South Asia.
al-Qaeda and other international militant groups are known to actively seek out recruits with Western passports to avoid scrutiny when traveling across the world. Shahzad, who had American citizenship, would have been a highly praised recruit.
“What better candidate than a person who has a U.S. passport and is willing to do something like this? Of course, the Pakistani Taliban or whoever is going to be interested,” said Moeed Yusuf, from the Washington-based think tank, United States Institute of Peace. “Who is going to suspect you until you do something?”
The emerging signs of a link between the failed attack and Pakistan may increase pressure on the Pakistani army to launch a new offensive in the northern part of Waziristan, something it has been avoiding until now. U.S. and European officials have long said that many of the terror plots in the West are hatched in the region.