Page last updated at 02:31 GMT, Thursday, 6 May 2010 03:31 UK

All-American town that harboured a terror suspect

Police outside Faisal Shahzad's former home in Shelton, Connecticut, on 4 May 2010
The sleepy town of Shelton where a terror suspect lived with his family.

By Katie Connolly
BBC News, Shelton

Faisal Shahzad's story is almost the quintessential American tale.

Upon coming to the US, he earned both a bachelors degree and an MBA, held a steady, respectable job and had a good home, where was often seen playing with his children.

His professors found him unremarkable. He left little impression on them, good or bad.

Then he allegedly loaded a car with explosives and tried to detonate it in Times Square.

Faisal Shahzad, taken from social networking site
Aged 30
Naturalised US citizen born in Pakistan
Resident of Bridgeport, Connecticut
Married - wife and two young children believed to be in Karachi
Awarded a master's in business administration from University of Bridgeport in 2005
Visited Pakistan at least eight times in recent years, according to local officials

One would reasonably expect the sleepy Connecticut town of Shelton to be reeling over the revelation that Shahzad had lived for several years in their midst on Long Hill Avenue.

But, with the initial surprise subsiding, life in Shelton has returned to normal remarkably quickly.

"These people can live anywhere," says Shelton resident Eric Fine, 50, with a shrug.

Other Shelton residents appear unfazed, resigned to the fact that, in post 9/11 America, the treasured openness of their community carries with it real risks.

They are the face of contemporary America.

On the highway leading into the town, there's a sign welcoming drivers to the All-American Valley.

It refers to the Lower Naugatuck Valley, where Shelton and several other townships are situated.

Dotted with historical buildings, Shelton is nestled in Connecticut's lush, green hills. Its past is deeply enmeshed in America's rich industrial history.

Shelton's riverside location once made it a thriving mill town. But it hit hard economic times in the 1970s and '80s, a familiar story across America's industrial northeast.

South Asian community

A large arson fire that destroyed an important rubber plant in 1975 added significantly to the town's hardship.

Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti (left) talks with a resident on 4 May 2010
I was a little speechless when the police chief called me - [Faisal Shahzad] was only a mile down the road from where I live
Mark Lauretti
Shelton Mayor

The fire is as central to the town's modern narrative as local football rivalries are to its cultural life.

But unlike similar towns in upstate New York, Shelton has rebounded solidly.

It now boasts facilities for many corporate giants, including Pitney Bowes, BIC Corporation, Prudential and NASDAQ.

The predominantly white town is conservative, with Republicans dominating the local political scene. It's not uncommon to spot an anti-Obama bumper sticker.

The Asian population, particularly South Asian, is growing steadily and is expected to outpace the Hispanic community in the years to come.

But Asians remain a small fraction of the overall population.

To hear locals tell it, life in Shelton is the stuff of modern American folklore.

Local police told the BBC that crime rates in Shelton are relatively low and have been declining in recent years.

For many, the town is a haven in a country increasingly dominated by overgrown urban jungles.

It's a place of manicured lawns, where people trust the folks next door.

Police regularly receive requests to close streets for block-parties - a distinctly American activity where neighbours and friends gather around BBQs and watch their kids play in the street.


Shelton is even home to the Wiffle Ball, an iconic and beloved American backyard game much like baseball, except with plastic equipment.

Investigators in Shelton look over mail and personal effects at former home of Faisal Shahzad on 4 May 2010
The former home of Faisal Shahzad is the focus of an intense investigation

State Representative Jason Perillo describes the town as one that preserves its values and puts families first.

He says Shelton is the sort of town where people know their neighbours.

"If I'm out working on my lawn, the neighbours drop by and want to talk about issues. People aren't anonymous," Mr Perillo told the BBC.

Although he feels a general sense of surprise that the man who lived down the street could have been a terrorist, he adds: "I don't think we are in a world anymore where people are disbelieving."

'He blended in'

Mr Shahzad had not appeared on the radar of local police.

"He moved here and blended in," Police Chief Joel Hurliman told the BBC. "We didn't really have any reason to believe that he was anything other than a US citizen who graduated from a US university and was working."

Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is accused of trying to detonate a makeshift bomb aboard a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009
Army psychiatrist Maj Nidal Hasan is charged with murder in the deaths of 13 soldiers at Texas army base in November 2009
Egyptian immigrant Hesham Mohammed Ali Hadayet kills two at the Los Angeles International Airport ticket counter of Israeli airline El Al in July 2002

Still, Police Chief Hurliman wasn't shocked when the FBI informed him that Shahzad was a suspect.

Shelton's proximity to New York City and Boston would make it potentially attractive to terror plotters, he said.

"If somebody is going to be up to no good in New York City, usually they're not going to be on top of it. They're going to be further out," Chief Hurliman said.

Sgt Robert Kozlowsky agrees.

Communities have been planning for disaster since 9/11. It's a different world that we live in, he says.

Mr Shahzad lived within blocks of City Hall and Shelton's Mayor Mark Lauretti drove past his house every day on his way to work.

'Pretty resilient'

Mayor Lauretti, who's been in office since 1991, had never met Mr Shahzad.

But the mayor described himself as a little taken aback that the terror suspect lived unnoticed in his midst.

"You can probably imagine that I see all sorts of things in my job," he told the BBC.

"I've become a little tough-skinned about a lot of things. But I was a little speechless when the police chief called me. [Mr Shahzad] was only a mile down the road from where I live."

But Mr Lauretti isn't worried about any long-term impact on his community. "We are pretty resilient," he said.

And the mayor is no exception. He's not letting the incident get under his skin, even if he is a little more vigilant than he used to be.

"In America today, you just never know. That's what the country has evolved to," he said.

"I hope the lesson people learn from this is that people really have to start paying attention to their surroundings. You can't take so many things for granted."

And with that, he left to spend the remainder of the balmy spring evening on the golf course.

How Times Square bomb plotter was arrested

The trail which led to the arrest of Times Square bomb suspect began with the discovery of a suspicious car early on Saturday evening, 1 May, close to New York's busy Times Square.
The Nissan Pathfinder was caught on cctv cameras arriving in Times Square just before 1830 EDT. A street seller raised the alarm when he noticed the car parked with its engine running and hazard lights flashing.
Police evacuated Times Square. In the car's boot they found all the ingredients for a homemade bomb including propane gas cylinders, fireworks and two clocks, a metal gun locker containing fertiliser.
From the car's vehicle identification number, police traced the woman in Connecticut who sold the car to Faisal Shahzad (pictured). She also gave police a mobile phone number and helped identify him from photographs.
Faisal Shahzad lived in this Bridgeport building. Mobile phone records showed he made several calls to Pakistan and to a fireworks store in Pennsylvania. Court documents said he had received bomb-making training in Pakistan.
Police arrested Shahzad at 2345 EDT on Monday 3 May after he boarded a flight en route to Islamabad, Pakistan. Although his name was on a no-fly list, he had been allowed onto the plane.
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