WASHINGTON – The U.S. citizen who attempted to set off a car bomb in New York’s Times Square on May 1 was trained and funded by a Pakistani militant group that works closely with al-Qaida to plot attacks against the U.S., top Obama administration officials said Sunday.
“We’ve now developed evidence that shows that the Pakistani Taliban was behind the attack,” Attorney General Eric Holder said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We know that they helped facilitate it. We know that they probably helped finance it. And that he was working at their direction.”
The assertion was repeated by senior White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, who said it appeared that 30-year-old Faisal Shahzad was “operating on behalf of the Tehrik-e-Taliban, the TPP.”
“It’s a group that is closely allied with al-Qaida,” Brennan said on “Fox News Sunday.” “They train together, they plan together, they plot together. They are almost indistinguishable.”
A government source close to the investigation said Sunday that the Pakistani Taliban instructed Shahzad to always pay cash and never ask for or receive receipts for his transactions. “He was told to leave no paper trail at all,” said the source, who requested anonymity because FBI interrogations are still under way with the suspect.
“He paid cash for his gun, and he paid cash for the van he acquired,” the source said. “He was told to be very careful about not letting anything track back to him. No receipts, and no paper. No nothing.”
He added that officials were trying to determine how much Taliban money was provided to front the operation, who put up the money, and how it was paid out to Shahzad.
Brennan said Pakistani officials had so far “been very cooperative” in the investigation.
Officials were still investigating the extent of Shahzad’s alleged connection to the Pakistani Taliban, but they believe he was trained during visits there. Brennan said he could not comment on whether the group recruited Shahzad – a Pakistani-born naturalized U.S. citizen – because his American passport allowed him to travel easily between the two countries.
Holder and Brennan defended the administration’s anti-terrorism strategy, although Holder said for the first time that he would be recommending changes to the Miranda rules that warn suspects of their rights.
Holder defended the way Shahzad was interrogated in the hours after his arrest. Authorities interviewed Shahzad for hours before reading him his Miranda rights, employing what’s called the “public safety” exception. But, Holder said, the rule, which allows interrogators to obtain information about immediate threats, is outdated in the age of international terrorism and may not provide agents with the “necessary flexibility.”
“I think we have to give serious consideration to at least modifying that public safety exception, and that’s one of the things we’re going to be reaching out to Congress to do – to come up with a proposal that is both constitutional but that is also relevant to our time and the threat that we now face,” he said.
Shahzad was arrested as he prepared to fly to the Middle East late Monday, 53 hours after an SUV packed with explosives was discovered in Times Square. Although Obama administration officials initially described Shahzad as a lone wolf, a fuller picture of his alleged connection to militants has emerged since his arrest.