THE failed Times Square bomber, sentenced to life in prison yesterday, warned America that “the war with the Muslims has just begun”.
Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani who took American citizenship last year, told the court moments before his sentence was announced: “Brace yourselves: the defeat of the US is imminent and will happen in the near future.”
Shahzad, 31, faced a mandatory life sentence after pleading guilty in June to ten terrorism and weapons charges.
At that hearing, he called himself a “Muslim soldier” who was avenging the death of Pakistani innocents in US drone strikes.
He told investigators that the Pakistani Taliban had funded his plot and trained him in bomb-making in the lawless western border region during a trip to his homeland last year.
He drove a car packed with explosives into Times Square in New York on May 1 this year but the device failed to detonate.
He was caught two days later as he was about to board a flight at the city’s JFK airport on his way back to Pakistan.
The plot was the first known attempt by the Pakistani Taliban, which had been seen largely as a local and regional threat, to strike at the American homeland.
It opened the door for the group to be targeted in US airstrikes inside Pakistan which, until then, had largely been aimed at al-Qa’ida.
Shahzad’s radicalisation was considered particularly troubling by law enforcement officials in the US because nothing in his prosperous, middle-class upbringing and ordinary American family life pointed to such extremism.
It prompted a wave of official soul-searching about the dangers of the so-called “home-grown terrorist”.
Before sentencing, Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum asked Shahzad about the oath of allegiance he had sworn to the flag when he took American citizenship in April 2009.
“I sweared, but I didn’t mean it,” Shahzad replied.
Prosecutors rejected Shahzad’s reasoning about avenging American drone strikes in Pakistan, saying it simply reinforced the need to keep him in jail.
“Far from providing an explanation for his criminal activity, Shahzad’s history and characteristics strongly militate in favour of the maximum available sentence,” Randall Jackson, an assistant US attorney, said.
Shahzad’s amateurism in carrying out the plot led directly to its failure – and ultimately to his capture. His crudely made bomb, left in an SUV parked outside a theatre, failed to ignite, giving off, instead, a plume of smoke that was spotted by a street vendor, who alerted police.
Shahzad escaped on foot after leaving the keys to a getaway vehicle inside the smoking car, along with the keys to his apartment in Connecticut.
Prosecutors said that if the bomb had it gone off, it would have caused carnage. They argued that Shahzad had boasted that the bomb would kill at least 40 people and had claimed to be planning subsequent attacks.
His sentencing comes as European officials continue their investigation into a suspected al-Qa’ida plot against European targets, also hatched in Pakistan.
Intelligence agencies believe that the group may be planning attacks of the kind launched in Mumbai in 2008 by militants with Western passports that would help them to avoid detection.
“Western foreign fighters” were cited in this year’s US National Security Review as a key emerging threat.
Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia were named as the countries where would-be militants were most likely to travel to receive terrorist training.