With the approach of the first anniversary of the abortive Times Square bombing plot, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly reminded New Yorkers Friday how fortunate they were that a terrorist's ill-conceived plan to explode a device on crowded city streets failed.
"Quite frankly, we were lucky a year ago on May 1," Kelly said in remarks after a police promotion ceremony. "Faisal Shahzad drove right into the middle of Times Square and he wasn't on any radar screen."
On the night of May 1, Shahzad, then 38, a Pakistani national and naturalized U.S. citizen living in Connecticut, drove a Nissan Pathfinder laden with crude components of a fertilizer bomb to 45th Street, just west of Seventh Avenue, at a time when the area was packed with tourists. The device failed to ignite properly and instead caused a vehicle fire. An alert street vendor who saw the smoke made the first call to police, who immediately evacuated the area and brought in the bomb squad.
In a fast-moving investigation, police and federal agents with the New York-based Joint Terrorism Task Force tracked Shahzad through cellphone records and interviews. Shahzad was arrested May 3 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at Kennedy Airport as he was preparing to board a flight to Dubai.
After his arrest, Shahzad admitted he drove the Pathfinder to Times Square so he could detonate the device and cause death and destruction. He also told federal officials he had undergone bomb training in Waziristan, Pakistan.
Federal investigators said in court papers that Shahzad had trained in Pakistan with elements of the terrorist group Tehrik-e-Taliban.
An unrepentant Shahzad pleaded guilty to charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and in November was sentenced to life in prison.
According to a test done by the FBI, the bomb would have unleashed a catastrophic vehicle explosion if it had been constructed properly.
Kelly said that since the incident, the city has ramped up its camera operations in midtown, tying them in to the more-extensive security initiative in lower Manhattan.
"We are doing everything we reasonably can to protect the city, but it is a dangerous world," Kelly said.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the city has been the target of 12 terrorist plots, police said, and Shahzad's came closest to completion.