Security lapses let Times Square bomb suspect nearly escape

Faisal Shahzad was arrested at a New York airport Monday.
Faisal Shahzad, a Pakastani-born U.S. citizen, was hauled off a flight to Dubai – moments before takeoff — though he was on a federal no-fly list. He was arrested late Monday at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and federal authorities say he has admitted to plotting the attack. He was charged Tuesday with terrorism and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.But one question is battling on the minds of the people who are threatened by this man: HOW DID HE GET IN THE PLANE?

He told FBI agents he received bombmaking training in a region of Pakistan known as a militant hotbed. Shahzad, who became a naturalized citizen last year, is from a military family in Pakistan, where he spent five months before returning in February to his home in a leafy, quiet neighborhood of Shelton, Conn.

NYC Police commissioner Ray Kelly said on NBC’s “Today” show that investigators do not yet know what factors may have triggered Shahzad’s apparent transformation from a seemingly regular father and husband into a suspected terrorist.

“These are what we call unremarkable people who decide to kill innocent people,” Kelly said. “That’s what makes it so difficult.”

Shahzad’s reported confession, combined with a series of phone calls he received from Pakistan after purchasing the Nissan Pathfinder used in the attempted bombing, has led investigators to zero in on the Pakistani Taliban connection as “a leading theory,” a federal law enforcement official said.

FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials said Tuesday there were at least two cracks in the system – the security protocol of the government and the airline — that nearly enabled Shazhad to slip through.

Amid burgeoning questions over how Shahzad boarded the plane despite being on the no-fly list, a Homeland Security official said Wednesday the government will now require airlines to check updated no-fly lists within two hours of being notified of changes.

According to anonymous AP sources, authorities lost track of Shahzad, who was under watch at his Shelton, Connecticut home. The reported lapse allowed Shahzad to get to the airport, where he boarded the plane.

Authorities put out a note to airlines early Monday afternoon cautioning them to check no-fly lists and then updated Shahzad’s information, including his passport number and other details, at about 4:30 p.m., according to the Times. But it appears Emirates didn’t check the updated list – because Shahzad bought a ticket and got on the plane.

Shahzad called in a reservation for an Emirates flight to Dubai by cell phone while en route to the airport and paid for the ticket in cash before boarding the plane, authorities said. Thus, investigators didn’t know he was planning to flee the country until customs officials got a final passenger manifest moments before takeoff.

Also, Emirates did not respond to a midday electronic notification telling all airlines to check the no-fly list for a newly added name, reports the Times. That’s how Shahzad managed to reserve a flight and purchase his ticket without getting flagged.

Since Customs and Border Protection agents were on the lookout for Shahzad, they recognized the name on a passenger manifest and ordered the flight stopped to arrest him.

A spokeswoman declined to comment on allegations Emirates failed to check the no-fly list before takeoff, but the airline said in a statement obtained by the Times that, “Emirates takes every necessary precaution to ensure the safety and well-being of its passengers and crew and regrets the inconvenience caused.”
Officials say there’s at least one measure they can implement rather immediately to prevent such security lapses from occurring again.

The Transportation Security Administration will assume the responsibility of comparing final passenger lists against no-fly lists, according to the Times. The agency is already reviewing the lists domestically, and by the end of the year, will do the same for domestic flights, officials told the paper.

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