The suspect in the bungled Times Square car bombing is still giving "useful information" to federal investigators, the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, assured members of Congress in Washington yesterday.
Faisal Shahzad has allegedly been supplying information since being snatched from an Emirates airliner bound for Dubai on Monday night, two days after a smouldering Nissan Pathfinder caused a hurried evacuation of the heart of Manhattan and triggered the most serious terror scare in America since the 9/11 attacks.
"We will continue to pursue a number of leads as we gather intelligence relating to this attempted attack," Mr Holder told members of a Senate committee. He arrived on Capitol Hill as some lawmakers continued to question why Mr Shahzad, who attained US citizenship last year, had been given the usual legal protections, including his so-called Miranda Rights, allowing him to remain silent and avail himself of a lawyer, in a case involving terror.
Saying Mr Shahzad's conversations with federal agents were "ongoing", Mr Holder insisted "there is simply no higher priority than disrupting potential attacks and bringing those who plot them to justice". Disaster was averted on the night of May 1 when a T-shirt vendor spotted smoke seeping from the Nissan and alerted police.
Meanwhile, law enforcement officials in New York revealed that Mr Shahzad had conducted a dry-run of his plot before carrying it out for real. They said he drove the Pathfinder to Times Square on April 28, seemingly to scope the area out and decide where he might best park the car on the day it was meant to explode.
Two days later, he came back to New York in a different car that he parked nearby. It was to be his getaway vehicle.
Most immediately, investigators are focusing on whether Mr Shahzad was acting alone or was supported by foreign groups intent on inflicting fresh wounds on America. When he was taken off the plane at JFK, he was headed, via Dubai, to Pakistan, the country of his birth.
Police in New York have said they have no evidence to support a claim of responsibility by a Taleban group in Pakistan. But the Pakistani Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, told Reuters last night that he was not convinced by reports that the suspect had acted alone. "According to the available information he says it was his individual act," he noted, before averring: "I would not tend to believe that."
For its part, the Taleban, through a spokesman, said in a statement it had had no contacts with the 30-year-old. "We have nothing to do with him," said Azam Tariq. "We never imparted any training to him."
The US has lodged a formal request for assistance in its investigations from the Pakistani authorities. Officials in Pakistan have already voiced the suggestion that Mr Shahzad may have had ties with Jaish-e-Mohammad, a group fighting Indian forces in Kashmir with ties to al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taleban.
Also being investigated by both the Americans and their Pakistani counterparts are possible links between the suspect and the Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan.
Mr Holder's appearance on Capitol Hill was designed to quell criticism of the Justice Department for the decision to inform Mr Shahzad of his constitutional rights as a US citizen. Some prominent figures on Capitol Hill, including Senator Joe Lieberman, have argued that in cases involving terror attacks suspects should be denied all such rights.
The president of Emirates airlines struck back angrily at criticism meanwhile that the carrier had failed properly to follow security procedures meant to block anyone on no-fly lists from buying tickets, let alone taking a seat on board an aircraft.
"We're not a security agency," Tim Clark told the Dow Jones news wire. "For the Obama administration to say that we dropped the ball on this, it's a bit much." He went on: "Perhaps the US needs to reexamine the flow of information between all the different authorities and also take a look at exit controls. The US government must also be asking itself why it doesn't have tighter exit controls when entry controls are so strict."
- INDEPENDENTBy David Usborne