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Normal or not

Terrorism | New Yorkers carry on after Times Square bombing attempt as terror plot investigation picks up

Issue: "GOP idea man," May 22, 2010

On May 4, three days after a Pakistani-American allegedly planted a bomb in Times Square, the busy intersection of New York-the busiest in all of America-seemed back to normal. That morning actress Ellen Pompeo helped launch the American Cancer Society's Choose You initiative in the heart of the downtown district, while Walgreens employees passed out piles of green eco-friendly bags to tourists carrying shopping bags from Ann Taylor Loft and Toys R Us. Office workers ate their lunches under red umbrellas in the pedestrian walkway. And a man wearing streaks of red face paint held a cardboard sign that said "One Species" in block letters.

On a day just like this three days earlier, a Times Square vendor noticed a parked, empty Nissan Pathfinder and alerted police, who found explosives inside. Investigators scoured images from 82 NYPD cameras and even a tourist camera to track down the car's movements. They apprehended the accused bomber, Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad, on May 3 at Kennedy airport after he had boarded a flight to Dubai. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder later said Shahzad admitted to the attempted bombing and was cooperating with officials. Although Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the incident was a "one-off," meaning the would-be bomber acted alone, investigators are still looking into Shahzad's connections in Pakistan.

As the investigation carries on, so does Times Square. Peter Foley, spokesperson for the Times Square Alliance (TSA), said vendors are out, and street counts showed that Times Square had more tourist traffic the Sunday after the bombing than it did the week before. A police officer walked by with a dog on a leash, and another police officer stationed himself in front of the Marriott, close to the street where the Nissan Pathfinder had been parked. TSA and NYPD both provide security for the area. Foley said TSA has provided no additional security since the scare, although Mayor Michael Bloomberg confirmed that there is an increased police presence. Foley said the police officers always "maintain a pretty vigilant eye over Times Square."

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While New York life may look back to normal-and Bloomberg urged New Yorkers to "go take in the Broadway shows, go out to dinner, enjoy everything the city has to offer"-Washington sounded a note of caution, with Holder warning against complacency in a Tuesday press conference: "As months, even years go by without a successful terrorist attack, the most dangerous lesson we can draw is a false impression that this threat no longer exists."

While some groups fretted about the rise of homegrown terrorism, details mounted suggesting Shahzad may have ties to radicals in Pakistan. The son of a Pakistani Air Force officer who enjoyed a middle-class upbringing in Pakistan and a U.S. education before becoming a citizen, Shahzad apparently shed the American dream starting last year, when he quit his job and stopped paying his mortgage. He moved his wife and family back to Pakistan last summer and remained there until February, when he returned to the United States.

The timing of his return to Pakistan coincides with an uptick in offensives against U.S. and Pakistani forces led by Pakistan's Taliban. In August a U.S. drone attack took out Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, who was believed to be behind the 2007 attacks on Islamabad's Red Mosque and who led the largest Taliban faction in Pakistan. Investigators lacked evidence linking Shahzad to the Taliban-until the group itself released three videos claiming responsibility for the Times Square attack.

"The time is very near when our fedayeen will attack the American states in the major cities," said Hakimullah Mehsud of the same tribal family, a Taliban leader also believed killed in a U.S. drone strike in January. "Inshaallah [God willing] very soon in some days or a month's time, the Muslim ummah [world] will see the fruits of most successful attacks of our fedayeen in USA." That nine-minute video was allegedly made on April 4.

-with reporting by Mindy Belz

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