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US questions security after car bomb plot

May 06, 2010

New doubts on security dogged US authorities in the wake of the Times Square bomb plot near-miss, while New York saw another brief scare after police searched an abandoned truck but found no explosives.

In the new nerve-rattling incident, authorities shut down a major New York City bridge briefly late Wednesday and sent bomb squad investigators in after an abandoned truck was reported, but found no explosives.

Lieutenant Mike Wysokowski told AFP no bomb was found on the rental truck abandoned on the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, also known as the Triboro Bridge, with nerves still raw from last Saturday's failed bombing in Times Square.

Meanwhile Washington tightened "no-fly" procedures after the chief Times Square bomb suspect, Faisal Shahzad, managed to board a flight to Dubai from New York on Monday just before being apprehended.

US aviation officials said they had stepped up security requirements demanding airlines check "no fly" lists within two hours of learning of a "special" name, instead of the previous requirement of 24 hours.

"In his case, the airline seemingly didn't check the name, and the suspect was allowed to purchase a ticket and obtain a boarding pass," a Transportation Security Administration official told AFP.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg used Saturday's incident to press Congress for more city security funds and to get lawmakers to ban the sale of weapons to people on an FBI terror watchlist.

"At a time when the threat of terrorism is still very real, as we in New York city know all too well, I think it is imperative that Congress close this terror gap in our gun laws, and close it quickly," he said.

The main question now is whether Shahzad had outside help or was acting on behalf of a larger group.

Pakistan's military said it had yet to establish a link between Shahzad, who is the son of a retired air force officer, and the country's main militant stronghold in Waziristan.

"Until and unless the link is established, it will be premature to say that he had gone there," army spokesman Athar Abbas told AFP.

Waziristan is the powerbase of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which claimed Saturday's attempted attack.

The Pakistani-born US citizen, accused of planting a large but poorly made car bomb in Times Square on Saturday, underwent extensive questioning and has not yet faced charges in court.

Analysts said the delay in presenting Shahzad before a judge indicated he had still not asked for a lawyer, and that statements by officials saying Shahzad has been cooperative with interrogators since his arrest were accurate.

Shahzad, 30, has been charged with five counts of terrorism, including attempted use of "a weapon of mass destruction." He faces life in prison if convicted.

US authorities are pressing now to discover whether there is a link to organized terrorism, in Pakistan or elsewhere.

Though the attack bore the hallmarks of an amateur with only basic technical knowledge, Shahzad has allegedly admitted that he received "bomb-making training" in Pakistan's lawless Waziristan region.

In Islamabad, the US ambassador consulted with Pakistani leaders, who pledged to investigate possible links to Saturday's attempted attack.

The White House sounded an optimistic note, saying Al-Qaeda was turning to smaller, "less sophisticated" attacks as its capacity to mount September 11-style spectaculars diminished thanks to US action.

But in an interview with CBS television, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi warned that increased attacks should be expected in "retaliation" for US drone missile strikes killing anti-US insurgent leaders in Pakistan.

"You could expect that.... Let's not be naive," Qureshi said.

So far the only group to claim responsibility for the Times Square plot is a Pakistani Taliban group.

Even if the bomb was a dud and the suspect was rapidly caught, the incident rocked the US security establishment -- particularly as Shahzad managed to board a plane before being nabbed.

The attack was stopped when a street vendor spotted smoke coming from the rigged car and alerted police.

Over 50 hours later, while the target of a massive manhunt, Shahzad drove to JFK airport, bought a ticket, passed passport control and boarded an Emirates Airlines flight before being arrested after the plane left the gate.

Attorney General Eric Holder insisted Tuesday there was never "any fear that we were in danger of losing him."

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