Mr. Shahzad’s admission of guilt had been expected. He waived his right to a speedy arraignment, and he gave the US government information about his training and contacts in Waziristan, Pakistan, with explosives experts.
What was not expected was the defiance with which Shahzad defended what he did. Shahzad told US District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum he was a "Muslim soldier" avenging the deaths of Muslims killed by Americans overseas, and that he didn't care that his bomb could have killed children.
"It's a war. I am part of the answer to the US terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people," he said.
Asked whether he was certain he wanted to plead guilty, Shahzad said he wanted to plead guilty 100 times more, and warned that if the United States did not leave Iraq and Afghanistan, "we will be attacking [the] US."
Shahzad was arrested on May 3 after he had boarded a plane that was leaving that night for Dubai. The naturalized US citizen, who was born in Pakistan, admitted that he left a Nissan Pathfinder loaded with improvised explosives and incendiary devices in Times Square.
On May 1, street vendors spotted the smoking vehicle almost immediately and notified the New York Police Department, which cleared the area. After firefighters doused the flames, the search began for whoever had left the vehicle. It was quickly traced to Shahzad.
“In this case, the speed with which they broke the case because of the terrorist overtones was breathtaking,” says Randy Mastro, former deputy mayor under Rudolph Giuliani and now co-chair of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher’s Litigation & Crisis Management Group in New York. “They actually identified him faster than his arrest because they wanted to track him to figure out if he had any accomplices.”
The information garnered from Shahzad has resulted in arrests in Pakistan and the US.
According to the Department of Justice, in December 2009, Shahzad received explosives training in Pakistan. Then, in February, he received $5,000 in cash in Massachusetts, sent from a co-conspirator in Pakistan. Six weeks later, he received an additional $7,000 in cash. Some of that money went to buying a used Pathfinder.
Also according to the Justice Department, Shahzad in March bought a semiautomatic 9 mm Kel-Tec rifle, which was later found loaded and in his car at John F. Kennedy International Airport on the day of his arrest. One of the counts against him includes possession of a firearm during or in relation to a conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction.
After his arrest, Shahzad waived his Miranda rights – the right to have an attorney present during questioning. Instead, he spent weeks talking to federal investigators before getting a lawyer.
“Well, it’s obvious by not having a lawyer, he could not precondition his cooperation,” says Stan Twardy, a former US attorney for Connecticut and now a partner at Day Pitney LLP, a Boston-based law firm.
Although federal guidelines indicate a life sentence for Shahzad, that might depend on what prosecutors told him to get him to cooperate, Mr. Twardy says. “The devil is in the details,” says the former prosecutor. “But no matter what, he will get a significant sentence. You don’t want to send the message that if you tried to kill hundreds, if not more, but got caught and cooperated, you don’t get so much jail time.”
Sentencing is set for Oct. 5, but that can always be delayed if Shahzad continues to cooperate, says Twardy. However, Mastro is not sure that the prospect of years behind bars will deter future terrorists as much as it may deter criminals.
“What motivates terrorists is not personal gain and hope of getting away but a misguided commitment to a cause that causes them to act in grotesque ways that endanger and often cost human lives,” says Mastro.
What the capture of terrorists such as Shahzad does accomplish, he says, is that it “helps us to understand how they come about, how they are trained, and with related prosecutions makes it harder for them to be successful.”