By Jill Colvin and Nicole Bode
BRIDGEPORT, CONN. — In the years before he planted a car bomb in the heart of Times Square, accused terrorist Faisal Shahzad worked as a junior financial analyst at a Connecticut international marketing firm and tended the garden of a $200,000 home he purchased with his wife.
Shahzad, 30, looked to all appearances to be a family man with a steady job and a college-educated wife and two kids, neighbors who knew him said. He'd become a US citizen with the help of his wife, Huma Mian, a University of Colorado grad. He commuted each day to his desk job at the Affinion Group in Norwalk, Conn., where he worked from mid-2006 to June 2009 before leaving voluntarily, a company spokesman said.
But within months of leaving his financial job, Shahzad traveled to Waziristan, Pakistan where he learned the art of bomb-making, according to the criminal complaint. That new found knowledge prepared him to detonate a bomb in Times Square Saturday night.
Back in 2004, Shahzad bought a home with his wife in Shelton, Conn. for $200,000. Neighbor Davon Reid, 17, said that Shahzad was always friendly and that the two used to share lawnmowers and mow each others' lawns.
Mary Ann Galich, who has lived around the block for 15 years, said the family appeared normal and happy. She said they used to have several barbecues each summer, grilling hot dogs and hamburgers on the front lawn.
Mian, the wife, often wore a headscarf and stayed mostly inside, Galich said. Faisal liked to run at night, dressed in a black sweatshirt and sweat pants, according to his former neighbors.
Galich said they had a kids' pool on their porch out back where the kids could play, and that there were lots of toys about.
But by September 2009, when Shahzad had left his financial job and traveled to Pakistan, he'd managed to default on the mortgage for the single-family home, triggering a lawsuit by Chase Home Financial Services that led to foreclosure.
Reid and his girlfriend, Heatherlee Tyler, said the one thing that struck them as odd about the family was how abruptly they left. In February, they snuck into the unlocked house and were shocked by what they found.
"They left everything. They left food everywhere, rotting. Honestly, it just looked like they picked up and left," Tyler said, adding that the kitchen was packed with spoiled milk, rotting ketchup and broken dishes. "The kitchen was full of flies on the floors."
Shahzad told customs officials he'd be living in hotel until he could find a job when he returned to the United States from Pakistan in February. He came back alone, on a one-way ticket, federal prosecutors said in the complaint.
Shahzad told immigration authorities at JFK that his wife stayed in Pakistan.
What Shahzad didn’t say was that he had been given extensive training about how to make a bomb during his stay in the northern province of Waziristan, prosecutors said.
And over the course of the next three months, prosecutors said Shahzad made all the arrangements to use his newfound bomb training.
He took up residence in Bridgeport, Conn., where some neighbors said he kept to himself, save for making frequent trips to carry boxes of goods in and out of the building under cover of the night.
“He's like a phantom," said neighbor Derrick Quick, who lives a block away from the Bridgeport home. Usually "everybody knows everybody over here," he added.
By mid-April, Shahzad had purchased a pre-paid cellphone, which he used to buy fireworks, take calls from Pakistan, and contact a 19-year-old college student who sold him her 1993 Nissan Pathfinder for $1300 — the same car used in the attempted Times Square car bombing — in cash, prosecutors said.
Investigators said Shahzad used stolen license plates from an auto shop in a nearby Connecticut town to mask the Pathfinder’s origins during what was meant to be its final trip to Times Square.
Shahzad's house keys and personal car keys were attached to the keychain found in the Pathfinder’s ignition, according to the federal complaint.
He took great care to customize the car for its final use May 1, tinting its windows and making a follow-up call to Colas to ask about the last time the oil had been changed, federal prosecutors said.
He also stashed ample amounts of fertilizer and fireworks in the garage at 202 Sheridan Street in Bridgeport, so much so that extra bomb-making supplies remained in the garage behind the home, and were recovered after the bombing by federal investigators.
Shahzad was arrested midnight Tuesday after hopping a plane to Dubai with a final destination in Pakistan, authorities said. He told authorities he’d driven himself to JFK airport armed with a 9 mm handgun, a rifle barrel, and backup ammunition, according to the federal complaint and reports.