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Long IslandCrime

Neighbor: 'Nothing suspicious' about terror suspect

Police officers block access to and from Sheridan

Police officers block access to and from Sheridan Street in Bridgeport, Conn. as FBI agents raid the home of Times Square car bomb suspect Faisal Shahzad on Tuesday. (May 4, 2010) Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - The house on Sheridan Street had been renovated within the past year and neighbors said it appeared - at times - to be vacant. Still, those who live in the neighborhood were startled Monday night when FBI agents trying to unravel a terror plot descended on No. 202.

Many said they were also surprised to find out that the search centered around neighbor Faisal Shahzad, who officials say was the man at the center of a failed attempt to bomb Times Square on Saturday night.

Dawn Sampson, 34, and Zickai Preston, 27, live across the street from Shahzad.

The women said he would come and go infrequently, sometimes with a woman and child they took to be his family. He would sometimes have a few men over for drinks and listen to music in his backyard, where Sampson said investigators were searching a shed Tuesday.

Sampson said Shahzad drove a white SUV, was quiet and kept to himself.

"He was like any other normal person," Sampson said, "nothing suspicious."

Preston said she last saw Shahzad at the house Friday, the day before the bomb attempt, with two or three other men.

As news of Shahzad's arrest spread Tuesday, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch assured residents that the city was safe.

"It did bring this home that this person lived on Sheridan Street in our town," the mayor said, adding he planned to meet Wednesday with the city's faith communities, including Muslims.

"I want to make sure that nobody uses this as an opportunity to vilify any member of our wonderful mosaic of diversity."

Finch said he "certainly wasn't happy" to learn Shahzad had lived in his city, but terrorists could operate anywhere, though he suspects some are drawn to the New York City region.

Acting Bridgeport police Chief Joseph Gaudett Jr. said he was not aware of any other individual being investigated in connection with the bomb plot in the Bridgeport area.

The family living in the home to the rear of the house said they were evacuated to a nearby high school in the middle of the night.

Before they left, resident Lavonne Muse said he could see armed agents banging on the rear door of the home, and later, he said, he saw those agents removing "boxes, papers, computers, electronics" from the house.

"They said there was a bomb scare," Muse said.

Shahzad's last dwelling in Bridgeport is a renovated building with a for-rent sign in a run-down area of the city. Federal agents evacuated neighbors and cordoned off the street. It stayed that way most of the day, as members of an FBI evidence collection team seized dozens of items from the second floor and garage and loaded them into a truck.

The house had a mailbox outside labeled "F. Shahzad 2d Flr 202," and neighbors said they recognized pictures of him, but he didn't seem to have left a very distinct impression. Although he appears to have been renting a unit, neighbors described him variously as the owner, landlord, a renter, and a contractor renovating the house. No one recalled seeing him with friends or family.

He seemed, in the end, to be a man who came and went without anyone quite knowing who he was or what he was up to, and without any close acquaintances in the final months before his bomb attempt.

"He was nice, decent, quiet," said Tracy Howard, who lived two houses down. She said Shahzad even showed her around the house when she was considering renting a unit, but it was too pricey.

With John Valenti

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