Lawyer links Mass. man, Shahzad
Says 1 of 2 arrested had number of bomb suspect
One of two Pakistani men arrested last week in a Watertown apartment had the cellphone number of Faisal Shahzad, the man accused of trying to bomb Times Square, stored in his phone and written on an envelope in his bedroom, a government lawyer said yesterday.
The name Faisal and a phone number beginning with a Connecticut 203 area code were scrawled on the outside of an envelope found among Aftab Ali Khan’s belongings, and the same number was among the contacts stored on Khan’s phone, said Richard D. Neville, deputy chief counsel for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Boston.
“Through investigative efforts, the FBI was able to determine the 203 number was one they obtained for Mr. Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber,’’ Neville said in US Immigration Court in Boston.
The disclosure, which came at the end of a hearing on whether Khan, 27, should be released, marked the first time that the government has provided evidence linking Shahzad to any of the three men arrested in New England on May 13 on immigration charges.
It also appeared to contradict Khan’s statement to his lawyer that he did not know Shahzad, a former financial analyst from Bridgeport, Conn., accused of the botched car bombing on May 1.
The evidence was seized during a raid of the Waverley Avenue apartment shared by several Pakistani men, including Khan and his cousin, Pir Khan, 43, a taxi driver, who was also arrested.
Neville said federal agents raided the apartment hours before Aftab Khan was scheduled to take a flight to Pakistan.
A federal agent testified that Aftab Khan had tried unsuccessfully to pay an American woman he had dated to marry him, and that when the Colorado woman jilted him, he paid $1,500 to $2,000 to a Cambridge woman to become his wife in December.
Saher J. Macarius, a lawyer from Framingham who represents Aftab and Pir Khan, challenged the evidence and said the envelope and cellphone may not have belonged to Aftab Khan.
“My client completely denies [a] relationship with that individual,’’ he said of Shahzad, after the hearing. “He never talked with him; he’s never seen him.’’
Macarius said the government did not put the FBI agent who allegedly found the cellphone and envelope on the witness stand, so Macarius had no opportunity to question the agent.
Immigration Judge Robin E. Feder had said that the hearing had gone on too long and that she would have to continue it to another day if the government called the agent, as Neville initially requested.
But she allowed Neville to make a brief statement detailing the evidence he said linked Aftab Khan to Shahzad.
It was possible, Macarius said afterward, that the phone and the envelope belonged to someone else who lived in the apartment. The government provided no telephone bills or fingerprint evidence linking the items to Aftab Khan, he said.
Aftab Khan, who is charged with staying in the United States after his visa expired six months ago, did not appear in court yesterday. He monitored the proceeding by video from the Suffolk County House of Correction, where he is being held. He appeared on a large screen in the courtroom, dressed in a jail-issued orange suit and told the judge at the start, “Yes, I speak English, but not very good.’’
The government portrayed him as a man so desperate to become a legal US resident that he offered two women thousands of dollars for a fraudulent marriage.
ICE Special Agent Michael McGonigle testified that an American soldier dated Aftab Khan while she was stationed at a US Army base in Kuwait, where he worked as a civilian for a company that provided supplies, and agreed to marry him.
But the soldier, Sharon Jeffcott, told agents she changed her mind after returning home to Colorado and meeting someone else and told Khan not to come to the United States because she would not marry him, said McGonigle.
Jeffcott told agents that Aftab Khan, who had already been granted a fiancé visa to come, showed up at her home anyway.
She said he offered her $5,000 to marry him and became “angry and agitated when he didn’t get the answer he wanted and she would become afraid,’’ McGonigle testified.
Jeffcott’s sister-in-law told agents that Khan also asked Jeffcott if she would marry another Pakistani man, and when she declined, he told her “she could stay with her boyfriend and still marry him,’’ McGonigle said.
Khan was supposed to leave the country by Nov. 17 if he did not marry Jeffcott, but instead he married another woman that day in a civil ceremony at Cambridge City Hall.
Agents interviewed Aftab Khan’s 29-year-old wife, Lila-Charlotte Fatou Sylla, after his arrest, and she “indicated it was a fraudulent marriage that she had entered into purely for financial gain,’’ McGonigle said. He said Sylla admitted Khan paid her $1,500 to $2,000.
Khan and Sylla filed a new petition with immigration in an effort to win legal residency, but failed to disclose he had a visa that required him to marry Jeffcott within 90 days or leave, McGonigle said.
McGonigle said Aftab Khan had booked a June 6 flight from New York to Pakistan, but changed his flight to May 13 sometime after the Times Square bombing.
Aftab Khan’s lawyer said his client was “an outstanding citizen,’’ who had high-security clearance in his civilian job as a convoy commander on the US Army base in Kuwait.
“If he was a threat, he would have caused more damage on the soil of the US Army when he was in Kuwait,’’ he said.
He said Khan was upset after traveling to the United States to be married, only to be jilted. He said Khan was blessed to meet Sylla and was leaving the country so he could try to reenter with proper paperwork and obtain legal residency status.
Neville suggested in court that Khan had pushed his flight up because of news reports that Shahzad was cooperating with federal authorities after he was arrested in the attempted bombing. But Macarius said Aftab Khan was simply trying to meet an immigration deadline that required him to leave the country within 180 days after his fiancé visa expired in November or face delays in his efforts to return.
Macarius urged the judge yesterday to release Khan on bail and allow him to return to Pakistan. The judge said she expected to rule within a week.
Federal authorities have said that Aftab Khan, Pir Khan, and a third man — Mohammad Shafiq Rahman, a 33-year-old computer programmer from South Portland, Maine — were arrested last week as part of the investigation of the Times Square attempted bombing, but had not disclosed any links with Shahzad.
US Attorney General Eric Holder said last week that investigators believed there was evidence the three men provided money to Shahzad through an informal money transfer network, but had not determined whether they knew the purpose of the funds. None of the three was charged criminally.
Farah Stockman, Bryan Bender, and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.