Not long ago, Faisal Shahzad had a pretty enviable life: he became an American citizen after emigrating from Pakistan, where he came from a wealthy family. He earned an MBA. He had a well-educated wife and two children and owned a house in a middle-class Connecticut suburb.
In the past couple of years, though, his life seemed to unravel: he left a job at a global marketing firm he'd held for three years, lost his home to foreclosure and moved into an apartment in an impoverished neighbourhood in Bridgeport. And last weekend, authorities say, he drove a sport utility vehicle loaded with explosives into Times Square intent on blowing it up.
The bomb didn't go off, and Shahzad was arrested on a plane in New York as he tried to leave the country. He was in custody yesterday and couldn't be reached for comment. Authorities say he is co-operating and has admitted getting explosives training in Pakistan.
Shahzad's behaviour sometimes seemed odd to his neighbours, and he surprised a real estate broker he hardly knew with his outspokenness about President George W. Bush and the Iraq war.
"He mentioned that he didn't like Bush policies in Iraq," said Igor Djuric, who represented Shahzad in 2004 when he was buying a home.
Djuric said he couldn't remember the exact words Shahzad used about Bush but "something to the effect of he doesn't know what he's doing and it's the wrong thing that he's doing".
Shahzad, 30, is the son of a former top Pakistani air force officer, according to Kifyat Ali, a cousin of Shahzad's father. He came to the United States in late 1998 on a student visa, according to an official who wished to remain anonymous.
He took classes at the now-defunct Southeastern University in Washington, then enrolled at the University of Bridgeport, where he received a bachelor's degree in computer applications and information systems in 2000.
"He was personable, a nice guy, but unremarkable," said William Greenspan, adviser for undergraduate business students at the University of Bridgeport. "He would just come in and take the course as needed so he could graduate in a timely manner.
"If this didn't happen, I probably would have forgotten him," Greenspan said. "He didn't stand out."
Shahzad was granted an H1-B visa for skilled workers in 2002, the official said. He later returned to the university to earn a master's in business administration, awarded in 2005.
In 2004, he and his wife, Huma Mian, bought a newly built home for US$273,000 at the height of the market in Shelton, a Fairfield County town that in recent years has attracted companies relocating to Connecticut's Gold Coast.
Mian graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2004 with a bachelor of science in business with an emphasis in accounting, the school said.
On her profile on the social networking site Orkut, she described herself as "not political" and said she spoke English, Pashto, Urdu and French. She listed her passions as "fashion, shoes, bags, shopping!! And of course, Faisal". She posted a picture of Shahzad, smiling, with the caption, "what can I say ... he's my everything".
Last year, the couple abandoned the home.
Neighbour Davon Reid and his girlfriend, Heatherlee Tyler, said they were puzzled that the couple moved out abruptly and left behind a mess of food, broken dishes and baby formula in the cabinets. They say the couple piled up remaining possessions in the closet of an upstairs bedroom. Tyler said there were bugs on the floors and stains.
"It was like they just picked up everything they wanted and just left one day," Reid said.
He said Shahzad was generally friendly but had some quirky habits, including jogging at night while wearing black clothing.
Shahzad worked from mid-2006 to May 2009 as a junior financial analyst for the Affinion Group, a marketing firm in Norwalk. Company spokesman Michael Bush said Shahzad held a lower-level position dealing with the company's budget and projected income and left on good terms.
Still, Shahzad defaulted on a US$200,000 mortgage on his Shelton home, and the property is in foreclosure, court records show. Shahzad took out the mortgage on the property in 2004, and he co-owned the home with Mian. Chase Home Finance LLC sued Shahzad in September, and the foreclosure is pending in Milford Superior Court.
Frank DelVecchio, a broker trying to sell the home for Shahzad, said Shahzad told him to let the bank take it. He said Shahzad told him he owed too much on it and planned to return to Pakistan.
Authorities say Shahzad returned to Pakistan then came back to the United States. He took an apartment in Bridgeport, and his landlord told investigators the apartment came with a garage that he alone had access to. The landlord also told police that he spotted two bags of fertiliser when he saw Shahzad entering the garage May 3.
The SUV Shahzad is accused of driving into Times Square contained a metal rifle cabinet that was packed with fertiliser, but police bomb experts believe it wasn't a type volatile enough to explode like the ammonium nitrate grade fertiliser used in previous terrorist bombings.
Neighbours in Bridgeport said Shahzad kept to himself, rarely socialising or stopping to chat.
"He usually walks around alone, looking lonely and kind of depressed usually," Nejilia Gayden said.
Since Shahzad's arrest on Tuesday, investigators have removed fireworks and fertiliser from the property. They also recovered a gun from the car Shahzad had driven to the airport.
Federal agents also searched the empty home in Shelton yesterday after the Connecticut Post and the New York Times said its reporters had discovered a trove of rain-soaked documents outside the home. The Post's find included an old passport from Pakistan, an academic transcript from Southeastern University listing a grade point average of 2.78 and tax returns showing Shahzad earned US$22,650 income as an account analyst in 2001.
The newspaper also found greeting cards, including one in which someone named Fayeza addressed him as "sweetest Faisal".
"Wish you happiness and joy now and always," the card said. "Praying for your bright future."
- APBy John Christoffersen