Faisal failed, but...

Herb Boyd | 4/12/2011, 5:28 p.m.

Now, just a little over a year after taking a citizenship oath, it seems Faisal Shahzad had apparently taken an earlier oath to deliver mayhem, destruction and death to Americans.

Shahzad, 30, was arrested Monday evening on a plane bound for Dubai and charged with attempting acts of terrorism and other related charges. He has confessed to receiving bomb-making training and to loading a Nissan Pathfinder with explosives that failed to ignite last Saturday at Times Square.

Because of Shahzad's ineptitude, the vigilance of street vendors, and the quick response of law enforcement officials and firemen, an explosion that could have delivered far more damage than the panic it left was prevented.

Faisal failed, but the prospect of a deadly terrorist act came a little bit closer to actually happening. Last Christmas, Umar Abdulmutallab, while aboard a plane to Detroit from Holland, attempted to ignite explosives concealed on his body. In February, Najibullah Zazi, an airport shuttle bus driver, pled guilty to a plot to detonate explosives in New York's subway system.

All three, upon being apprehended and questioned, agreed to cooperate with authorities, divulging information that has led to the arrests of others. According to reports, several people have been arrested in Pakistan who may have had connections to Shahzad.

A group calling itself the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the failed bombing, though investigations continue regarding the veracity of the claim and if Shahzad was affiliated with the group.

From Saturday to Monday, law enforcement officers were diligently pursuing a number of leads, none more important than the forensic evidence from the vehicle. If it had exploded, it would have taken much longer to trace the ownership, and Shahzad would not have had to flee the country.

Shahzad was able to board a plane, even though his name was on a no-fly list. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that even if Shahzad had reached Dubai, he would have been detained there.

"We owe an incredible debt of gratitude to the heroic actions of the New York City Police Department and to a single, vigilant New Yorker who identified a suspicious vehicle near Times Square in New York City," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "Luckily, no one is hurt, and now the full attention of city, state and federal law enforcement will be turned to bringing the guilty party to justice in this act of terrorism."

Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference on Tuesday, "It is clear that this was a terrorist plot aimed at murdering Americans in one of the busiest places in the country."

Holder also told the press that Shahzad had provided "useful information," though he insisted he had acted alone.

Much of what is known about Shahzad has been pieced together from materials found in a former residence in Connecticut and from a Facebook account. It is reported that his father-in-law has been detained in Pakistan and that his father, wife and children may be in protective custody.

"The American people," President Obama said, "can be assured that the F.B.I. and their partners in the process have all the tools and experience they need to learn everything we can. That includes what, if any, connection this individual has to terrorist groups. And it includes collecting critical intelligence as we work to disrupt any future attacks."

Already, Republicans have accused the Obama administration of being too nice and not expressing enough concern about public safety. Sen. John McCain, appearing on Sean Hannity's radio show, said, "Our priority should not be telling them they have a right to remain silent." He was referring to the Miranda rights that were read to Shahzad, who waived them.

Once again, as in previous arrests of so-called terrorists, the question arises whether to charge them as civilians or enemy combatants.