x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

NY bomb suspect was bound for Pakistan

The Times Square bomber suspect was on route to Pakistan when he was pulled off a flight to Dubai.

DUBAI // A Pakistani-American man accused of trying to detonate a bomb in New York's Times Square was heading for Pakistan when he was pulled off a Dubai-bound flight called back prior to departure, the airline said on today. Asked what Faisal Shahzad's final destination had been, an Emirates Airline spokesman said: "It was Islamabad." Prosecutors charged Mr Shahzad, 30, a naturalised US citizen born in Pakistan, with five counts, including attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and trying to kill and maim people within the United States. He faces a life sentence if convicted.

Mr Shahzad was arrested on Monday after he was taken off an Emirates plane that was about to depart for Dubai, a major transit hub. Hours later, several of his relatives were arrested in Pakistan, security sources said. Emirates said three people were removed from the flight but two were later cleared and allowed on board. All passengers were taken off the plane and screened before the plane left for Dubai.

US authorities are investigating whether Emirates made a mistake in letting Mr Shahzad on one of its aircraft. The former financial analyst was accused of driving a crude homemade bomb of gasoline, propane gas, fireworks and fertiliser into a busy Times Square on Saturday night. The bomb was in a sport utility vehicle that prosecutors said Shahzad bought for US$1,300 (Dh 4,775) in cash. Prosecutors said Mr Shahzad admitted to the bomb attempt and to receiving training in a Taliban and al Qa'eda stronghold in Pakistan.

Passengers on the New York-to-Dubai flight described the mood on the Emirates plane as calm and controlled as police boarded before take-off to remove several passengers. "Honestly nobody panicked, everybody was so calm, everybody was so quiet. There were a lot of people who had connecting flights, they just wanted to get the hell out of JFK," said Egyptian Azza Abou al Magd, who was on the plane.

She said that one of those removed from the flight was whisked out by armed police officers who confiscated the man's phone and politely and quietly escorted him off the plane. The Taliban in Pakistan claimed responsibility for the bomb attempt, saying it was to avenge the killing of two top al Qa'eda leaders in Iraq and for US interference in Muslim countries. While some US officials were sceptical about the claim, the Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told CBS News he believed the failed attack was a retaliation for the United States targeting Taliban followers.

Passengers on the Emirates flight said they were not informed of the magnitude of what was happening on the plane. "They didn't tell us: 'Hey listen guys we have someone'. We didn't know what was going on, when we went back to the taxi and then we went back to the airport that was when we became somewhat concerned," Faye Roy, a passenger, said. "I called a friend at home and said turn on CNN and tell me what's going on my plane and he told me," she said after the delayed flight arrived in Dubai this morning.

Another passenger, Samir al Ammari, said: "I was worried. I was planning to cancel the flight and take another ... It was very difficult when you hear about something like this." * Reuters