By Jill Colvin
BRIDGEPORT, CONN. — As Faisal Shahzad continued to be questioned Thursday about his admitted attempt to bomb Times Square, federal officials say it looks increasingly like he had help from radical groups in Pakistan.
Federal officials told the New York Times evidence is mounting that shows a group called the Pakistani Taliban inspired and trained Shahzad, 30, who was arrested Monday night at JFK Airport while trying to flee the country.
“Somebody’s financially sponsoring him, and that’s the link we’re pursuing,” an official told the Times. “And that would take you on the logic train back to Pak-Taliban authorizations.”
But dozens of Shahzad's former neighbors remember him as a kind, soft-spoken husband and father — not as anti-American or a religious extremist.
Worshippers praying Wednesday at the Masjid An-Noor in Bridgeport, Conn., the area's most prominent mosque, said they had never seen Shahzad before his face appeared on every news channel and front page in town.
"I don't remember ever seeing him here," said Rafiq Akhdar, 48, a drug rehab counselor who said he has prayed at the mosque two to three times a day, every day, for several years.
Tracy Howard, who lived on the same Bridgeport block where Shahzad rented an apartment after he moved out of his foreclosed Shelton, Conn., home, said that she didn’t even realize he was a Muslim.
“I thought he was Indian,” said Howard, who once considered renting a floor in Shahzad’s house, where FBI agents recovered fertilizer and fireworks Tuesday.
Other Muslim residents said that the terror link to Bridgeport has been a huge shock for the community.
"The majority of our people here in Connecticut are educated people and quiet and take care of their business and don't have time for crazy thoughts," said Amir Mohamed, co-manager of the Corner Market, just around the corner from where Shahzad is believed to have last lived.
"Our people are a peaceful people," he said. "Our Islam is totally about peace."
Federal officials told various news organizations that Shahzad's apparent radicalization was a recent event.
"What we know is, the dynamic appeared to have changed in the last year," an unnamed official told CNN.
"He did a slow burn," a source told the Daily News. "[He was] slowly radicalized as events piled up — the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, Muslim brothers being killed, innocent people being hit by drones from above."
Neighbor Dennis Flanner, 18, told the News he remembered a party where Shahzad was brooding over TV reports about the war.
"They were talking about those drones blowing things up in Afghanistan," Flanner told the paper. "He was the only one watching it. Everybody else was just having a good time."
When someone told Shahzad to lighten up, he got angry, Flanner said.
"They shouldn't be shooting people from the sky," Shahzad said, Flanner told the News. "You know, they should come down and fight."
The Times reported that Shahzad asked his father, a former Pakistani air force pilot, for permission to fight in Afghanistan. He refused.
A guest at Shahzad's wedding told the Times that the admitted bomber "wasn't a bit religious." But in recent years, as financial and child pressures mounted, he started talking more about Islam, the guest said.
“The recession had taken a toll on them, I guess,” the guest told the Times.