Shortly before the attempted car bombing in Times Square, Faisal Shahzad traveled to Ronkonkoma, where he received cash that he used to help carry out his plot, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
The trip was before the May 1 bombing attempt, said the sources, who did not identify the person who provided the cash to Shahzad or the amount Thursday.
In an effort to track how Shahzad may have funded his plot, federal agents Thursday interviewed two Long Island men as part of a sweep through four Northeastern states, officials said.
On Long Island, the searches focused on people investigators believe may have given money to Shahzad in the days before the Times Square incident, said a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation. No one on Long Island was arrested.
Sources familiar with the investigation said it is unclear if the people who passed the cash onto Shahzad were aware of what the money would be used for.
Elsewhere, two men were arrested in Watertown, Mass., and another was picked up in Maine in an operation that officials said did not involve a search. All three were being held on administrative immigration violations, not criminal charges, authorities said. They were not identified.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday “there is at least a basis to believe that” the detained men gave Shahzad money, but he added that they may not have known what the money would be used for.
“So we are trying to trace back to see what exactly was the nature of those transactions, what was the purpose of the sharing of that — of those monies,” Holder said.
The two Long Island men — Muhammad Younis of Centereach and Mohammad Iqbal of Shirley — were spoken to at their homes, according to Iqbal himself, Younis’ landlord and a source familiar with the investigation.
“The leads in the investigation led us to these two locations,” Richard Kolko, FBI New York field office spokesman, told Newsday. He said authorities were not breaking up a brewing plot but rather investigating the Times Square case.
Another source who was briefed on the federal investigation said that the cash that Shahzad eventually received to aid in his plot was transmitted to the United States through a traditional Middle Eastern money remitting system known as halawa.
In the system, a broker in a foreign country vouches to his counterpart in the United States that he has possession of the cash, and a like amount should be given to the person in the States. The cash overseas never actually moves to the United States, but an equivalent amount is distributed in the states, for a fee.
Iqbal said agents questioned him for more than five hours Thursday, grilling him about whether he had sent money to Pakistan, whether he knew Shahzad and helped with the Times Square attempt and about his former roommate, Younis.
Iqbal said he told federal agents that Younis was a good person. He said he didn’t know Shahzad and didn’t know anyone in Pakistan.
Federal agents searched Younis’ one-bedroom basement apartment on Oxhead Drive in Centereach, which he shares with a woman and a young girl, said landlord Ashim Chakradorty. Agents also searched a backyard shed and Younis’ vehicle, Chakradorty said, but he did not see them take anything away.
Younis could not be reached for comment Thursday. From behind a closed door at his basement apartment, a woman told reporters to leave.
“Go away. We’re Americans,” she said, without giving her name. “Go pick on a real terrorist, you morons.”
In the Boston area, federal and local law enforcement had been watching Thursday’s detainees for at least the last few days, Massachusetts police officials said. Around 6 a.m., they swooped in on a residence on Waverley Avenue in Watertown, about 10 miles west of Boston, and a Mobil gas station in Brookline, just outside the city, police said.
“They had guns that looked like machine guns pointed at the house,” said neighbor Vincent Lacerra, 50, a Waverley Avenue neighbor who was up watching television.
One of those arrested had recently visited Pakistan, the Watertown home’s landlord, Shubh Joshi, told Newsday.
“We got the people we’re looking for,” Ed Deveau, chief of the 65-member Watertown Police Department, told Newsday.
Shahzad, 30, a former financial analyst, has been in custody at an undisclosed location since May 3 and is waiving his right to a court appearance every day as he cooperates, authorities said Thursday.
Federal investigators have said Shahzad told them he received bomb-making training during a visit to Pakistan.
Agents were also at a printing press in Camden, N.J., and a condominium in Cherry Hill, N.J., the FBI said.