WASHINGTON — No credible evidence has been found so far that the Pakistani-American man accused in the Times Square bombing plot received any serious terrorist training from the Pakistani Taliban or another radical Islamic group, six U.S. officials said Thursday.
Faisal Shahzad may have, at the most, had "incidental contact" with a terrorist organization, and he may have been encouraged to act, one of the officials said, according to McClatchy Newspapers.
Four U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials and two other U.S. officials with knowledge of the case spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss classified intelligence or the ongoing investigation publicly.
Several news reports on Thursday, though, said that U.S. officials had gathered "mounting" evidence that the Pakistani Taliban had trained Shahzad.
The New York Times reported that officials said that after two days of intense questioning of the bombing suspect, evidence was mounting that the group, the Pakistani Taliban, had helped inspire and train him.
According to a five-count criminal complaint filed by U.S. prosecutors in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday, Shahzad admitted after his arrest on Monday to receiving bombmaking training in Waziristan, a part of Pakistan's tribal area bordering Afghanistan, during a five-month trip to his homeland that ended in February.
According to the criminal complaint, Shahzad admitted that he had parked a Nissan SUV loaded with propane tanks, gasoline canisters, fertilizer and fireworks coupled to two alarm clocks in Times Square on Saturday and fled.
The vehicle smoldered but failed to explode.
Shahzad was arrested Monday night on a Dubai-bound Emirates flight at John F. Kennedy Airport.
The U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials, however, said that the bungled nature of the bombing and the trail of clues that led the FBI to him suggest he never received even rudimentary terrorist training or instructions on how to evade arrest.
Nor has any credible evidence been uncovered verifying his story of being trained in Waziristan, they and the other U.S. officials said.
The official cited, among other things, the would-be bomber's use of the wrong kind of fertilizer and the fact that he made little or no effort to conceal his identity or that of the vehicle he used.
Another U.S. official said that Shahzad hadn't even removed the plastic caps on the propane tanks' valves before he abandoned the vehicle.
However, Richard Kolko, an FBI spokesman, said Thursday that it could be "weeks or months" before U.S. investigators are able to corroborate all aspects of Shahzad's tale, saying they have to interview detainees and other people in Pakistan.
"If he went to a (training) camp, it is a lengthy process," Kolko said. "Everything has to be checked."