Money Woes, Long Silences and a Zeal for Islam
By JAMES BARRON and SABRINA TAVERNISE
Published: May 5, 2010
Theirs was an arranged marriage: two well-educated children of prominent Pakistani families set up through a mutual friend. He was the quiet one; she was the one who laughed at parties.
Evidence Mounts for Taliban Role in Car Bomb Plot (May 6, 2010)
Suspect’s Gun Proved Easy to Obtain (May 6, 2010)
Suspect Was Tracked Through Phone Numbers (May 6, 2010)
The Lede Blog: Another Middle-Class Terror Suspect (May 5, 2010)
Times Topics: Faisal Shahzad | Times Square Bomb Attempt (May 1, 2010)
At their wedding in Peshawar six years ago, men and women danced separately but also together, “a rarity at that time,” recalled one guest. “It was such a huge gathering that even their family friends from Qatar came.”
When they returned to the United States, his colleagues at the cosmetics maker Elizabeth Arden celebrated with a small office party.
The husband, Faisal Shahzad, put photographs of his wife, Huma Mian, on his desk at the Arden office in Stamford, Conn. They bought a brand-new house for $273,000, 35 miles away on Long Hill Avenue in Shelton. By the time they moved in, she was pregnant, the neighbors recalled.
As another day passed with Mr. Shahzad talking to investigators about the car bomb he had admitted driving into Times Square on Saturday, details emerged on Wednesday about the couple and their life together, along with speculation about his radicalization. People who knew them, both in Connecticut and in Pakistan, said he had changed in the past year or so, becoming more reserved and more religious as he faced what someone who knows the family well called “their financial troubles.”
Last year, one Pakistani friend said, he even asked his father, Bahar ul-Haq, a retired high-ranking air force pilot in Pakistan, for permission to fight in Afghanistan.
Mr. Haq, now in his 70s, adamantly refused, according to a person familiar with the conversation, saying that he disapproved of the mission and reminding his son that Islam does not permit a man to abandon his wife or children.
As a newlywed, the wedding guest said of Mr. Shahzad by e-mail from Pakistan, “there was no sign of him being extremist or, for that matter, he wasn’t a bit religious.” But in the past couple of years, after changing jobs and fathering two children, Mr. Shahzad “started talking more of Islam.” The guest spoke on the condition he not be identified because of concerns about his safety in the wake of the attempted car bombing.
“The recession had taken a toll on them, I guess,” he wrote in an e-mail message from Pakistan. He said that their money worries became apparent in 2008 or 2009 and that Mr. Shahzad “lost his way during the financial problems.” JPMorgan Chase has since moved to foreclose on the Shelton house, which the couple had abandoned in a hurry, leaving behind clothes and toys.
In February, Mr. Shahzad leased a two-bedroom apartment in Bridgeport, Conn. His landlord said he never saw Mr. Shahzad’s wife. Faiz Ahmad, a friend from the Shahzad family’s ancestral village, Mohib Banda, said that when he last saw Mr. Shahzad, at a wedding a year and a half ago, he was sure that something was wrong. Mr. Shahzad seemed changed, he said, sitting by himself and not talking very much.
He was “completely quiet on the sofa, like someone who has some worries, and undergoing some internal change,” Mr. Ahmad said. “So he was sitting silent, silent. And silence in itself is a question.”
A Pakistani man said that an acquaintance of his who was a friend of the Shahzad family told him that within the past year, Mr. Shahzad had peered critically at a glass of whiskey the friend was holding, indicating a judgmental stance typical for rigid jihadis.
Mr. Shahzad, now 30, appeared to be tracing a familiar arc of frustration, increasing religiosity and, finally, violence. He was born and raised in Pakistan, with a privileged upbringing in a moderate family that lived in at least three places — Karachi, Rawalpindi and Mohib Banda. Mr. Haq, according to Mr. Ahmad, “was a man of modern thinking and of the modern age.”
Family friends interviewed on Wednesday said they believed that Mr. Haq was in hiding in the city of Dera Ghazi Khan in western Pakistan, where the family has wheat fields. Mr. Shahzad’s wife was also believed to be in Pakistan, though her whereabouts was unknown. Dawn, a Pakistani daily, reported that her father had been arrested in Karachi, but Pakistani authorities would not confirm that.
Mr. Shahzad, the youngest of four, was born into a new generation in the years after a military autocrat, Zia ul-Haq, began to inject a rigid version of Islam into Pakistan’s education system. At the same time, hard-line mosques were given money and land, elevating a narrow, often sectarian world view that cast a pall over young Pakistanis.