Federal agents arrested three people Thursday in raids across the US northeast in an expanding probe into the failed Times Square bomb attack.
US Attorney General Eric Holder said search warrants were executed across the region and “several individuals who were encountered during those searches have been taken into federal custody for alleged immigration violations.”
“These searches are the product of evidence that has been gathered in the investigation since the attempted Times Square bombing,” he said.
Kelly Nantel, spokeswoman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, said “we made three arrests today… on immigration violations in connection with the operation that the FBI made.”
US media reported that the immigrant suspects may have financed Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad, who was arrested last week after allegedly leaving a car bomb in New York’s Times Square.
Officials would not say where the sweeps took place, but US media cited locations in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, in addition to Massachusetts, where at least two raids took place.
In the Boston suburb of Brookline, police, FBI and immigration officers swarmed over a Mobil gasoline station, an AFP reporter said. Helicopters hovered over the quiet street and police taped off the facility.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were among those present, along with uniformed and plainclothes personnel.
Another raid took place at a home in Watertown, west of Boston.
Local resident Vincent Lacerra described dramatic scenes as FBI agents brandishing weapons yelled for his neighbor to surrender.
“I heard a loud shout: ‘FBI, FBI, get your hands up!’ They screamed at the top of their lungs,” Lacerra told AFP.
“There were 15 to 20 FBI agents wearing bullet proof vests. It looked like they had shotguns. They had long barrels,” he said.
The suspect emerged with officers, his ankles and wrists cuffed, about 15 minutes later. The FBI then hauled computers, papers and other belongings from the house, Lacerra said.
Authorities have been interrogating Shahzad since his arrest May 3 as he sat on a plane at JFK Airport in New York about to take off for Dubai.
He is alleged to have constructed a crude bomb discovered inside a parked car in Times Square on May 1, after a street vendor notified police that smoke was coming from the vehicle.
The discovery forced the evacuation of the popular tourist spot and a massive manhunt that culminated 53 hours later in Shahzad’s arrest.
He faces five terrorism-related charges, and US authorities say he has been cooperating with investigators during interrogations since his arrest.
No further details were announced immediately on how the people in Thursday’s raids may have been linked to Shahzad.
However, US media reported that they had provided the alleged bomber with money — although it was not yet clear whether they did so as part of a plot, or simply as part of an informal arrangement in which they would not have known about his plan.
Holder said Thursday that the Pakistani Taliban was “responsible for this attempted attack.”
The insurgent group had claimed responsibility for Shahzad’s alleged bombing attempt, but US officials had initially been skeptical.
Holder also said that Shahzad was providing “useful information.”
The 30-year-old son of a retired Pakistani Air Force officer apparently has not asked for a lawyer. He has yet to appear in court after waiving his right to a speedy arraignment.
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd emphasized that Thursday’s raids were not related to the discovery of any new threats.
“These searches are the product of evidence that has been gathered in the investigation subsequent to the attempted Times Square bombing and do not relate to any known immediate threat to the public or active plot against the United States,” he said in a statement.
The attempted attack has left residents, visitors and authorities in Times Square jumpy, with several “suspicious packages” that later turned out to be harmless sparking false alarms there in recent weeks.
US aviation officials also changed security regulations, shortening the amount of time for airlines to check updated “no-fly” lists, after Shahzad was able to board his flight despite having been added to the list.