The Pakistani immigrant who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square was sentenced this morning to life in prison, a mandatory penalty that left him defiant as ever and the judge who sentenced him determined to send a message to anyone who might want to follow in his path.
Faisal Shahzad came to court to tell Americans he felt no remorse about his May 1 bombing attempt, and he sparred with U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum.
Cedarbaum said her sentence was very important “to protect the public from further crimes of this defendant and others who would seek to follow him.”
Shahzad, 31, defended his attempt to kill Americans. During his statement before sentencing, Cedarbaum cut him off at one point to ask if he had sworn allegiance to the United States when the Pakistan-born Shahzad became an American citizen last year.
“I did swear but I did not mean it,” Shahzad said.
“So you took a false oath,” the judge told him.
Shahzad was arrested two days after a bomb in the back of a sport utility vehicle fizzled with a mere sputter of smoke, drawing the attention of a street vendor who alerted police.
An improvised car bomb – a 1993 Pathfinder fitted with 250 pounds of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel, three 25-pound propane tanks and two five-gallon gasoline canisters – blew up with a force that ripped the sport utility vehicle in half.
The explosion also caused a giant fireball that overturned and shredded four other cars parked nearby in an open field, obliterated about a dozen dummies posed as pedestrians and shot fiery debris hundreds of feet in all directions.
A dramatic videotape of the FBI-staged test blast in June has become a key piece of evidence against Shahzad, who faces a mandatory life prison term at his sentencing Tuesday in Manhattan federal court.
Technicians studied Shahzad’s design before using it to build a working model they say demonstrated his deadly intent.
“Had the bombing played out as Shahzad had so carefully planned, the lives of numerous residents and visitors of the city would have been lost and countless others would have been forever traumatized,” prosecutors wrote in court papers.
Shahzad’s bomb fizzled before it could do any harm, doomed by faulty wiring and ingredients such as a low-grade fertilizer that couldn’t explode.
The Pakistan-born Shahzad hasn’t disputed the allegations while under interrogation and taking a guilty plea.
In fact, “he spoke with pride” about the scheme, in which he bragged that he wanted to kill at least 40 people, the government said in a sentencing memo. If he escaped arrest, he added, he hoped to set off another bomb two weeks later in a second, undisclosed location.
“While it is impossible to calculate precisely the impact of Shahzad’s bomb had it detonated, the controlled detonation … demonstrated that those effects would have been devastating to the surrounding area,” prosecutors wrote.
Calling himself a Muslim solider, a defiant Shahzad pleaded guilty in June to 10 terrorism and weapons counts, some of which carry mandatory life sentences.
“I want to plead guilty and I’m going to plead guilty a hundred times forward,” he said.
Unless the U.S. leaves Muslim lands alone, he warned, “we will be attacking U.S., and I plead guilty to that.”
Shahzad has said the Pakistan Taliban provided him with more than $15,000 and five days of explosives training late last year and early this year, months after he became a U.S. citizen.
For greatest impact, he chose a crowded a section of Times Square by studying an online streaming video of the so-called “Crossroads of the World,” prosecutors said.
He lit the fuse of his crude, homemade bomb, then fled on foot, pausing along the way to listen for the explosion that never came, court papers said.
A street vendor spotted smoke coming from the SUV and alerted police, who quickly cleared the area. The bomb attempt set off an intense investigation that culminated two days later with investigators plucking Shahzad off a Dubai-bound plane at a New York airport.
A few days later, Pakistani authorities arrested three men on charges they helped him meet leaders of the Pakistan Taliban, a militant group based in the northwest of the country that has claimed responsibility for the plot. They also are accused of sending him cash in the United States when he ran short of money.
The men’s lawyer says there’s no evidence to support the allegations and that the men had been forced to sign confessions. A trial date has yet to be set.
Three other men were detained in New England on immigration charges in an investigation of an underground money transfer system used by Shahzad, but they were never charged with any crimes.