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Authorities search Watertown location in Times Square bomb case

Posted by Leslie Anderson  May 13, 2010 10:21 AM

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Ed Medina/Globe Staff


The house was cordoned off with yellow police tape this morning.

Federal agents searched a home in Watertown and a gas station in Brookline this morning in connection with the investigation of the attempted bombing in Times Square earlier this month, authorities said.

FBI spokeswoman Gail Marcinkiewicz emphasized that "there's no known immediate threat to the public or active plot against the United States."

Marcinkiewicz said search warrants had been executed at "several locations in the Northeast," including a home on Waverley Avenue in Watertown. Police tape cordoned off the small white house at 39 Waverley this morning.

"The searches are the product of evidence that has been gathered in the investigation" of the Times Square attempt, she said.


Two people encountered during the searches were taken into custody for alleged immigration violations, Marcinkiewicz said.

Christina Diiorio Sterling, a spokeswoman for the US Attorney's office in Boston, said the two were arrested on administrative charges -- not criminal charges -- and therefore will not be appearing in federal court.

US Attorney General Eric Holder, testifying before a congressional committee today, confirmed that "several people" had been taken into custody. He said the raids in the Northeast were the result of evidence gathered in the investigation into the failed New York bombing. Holder did not refer specifically to the Boston-area raids.

Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman in Washington, said a total of three people were taken into custody today, but he declined to say whether all of them were as a result of the Massachusetts searches.

Brookline Police said they had assisted the FBI in an operation at a gas station at 198 Harvard St. Police Chief Daniel O'Leary told reporters at the scene, "Brookline remains a very safe place. This is not targeting Brookline."

Police and FBI and ICE agents could be seen scrutinizing the service bays of the gas station this morning, as well as cars parked outside. They hauled away a number of items in boxes.

Baij Joshi, who manages the Watertown property for his father, Shubh, said the tenants on the first floor were several Pakistani men, who had lived there "more than two to three years." He said some had spoken recently of taking trips to Pakistan.

"They seemed to be very good people. They paid the rent on time," he said.

"The impression that I got is they're working people, making their daily livelihood by driving a taxi and working in a store," he said.

Vincent Lacerra, who lives across the street from the Waverley Avenue home, said he was watching TV at about 6 a.m. when he heard a commotion outside and the words, "FBI, don't move, put your hands up!"

He looked outside to see about 20 agents with guns drawn. "They all had their guns drawn, pointed at the house," he said.

Soon afterwards, a man whose age he estimated at 25 to 40 was taken from the house and put into an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement van.

His wife, Barbara, said, "He was in shackles and handcuffs. He was right in front of me. He glanced at at me a second."

"I'd never seen him before," said Vincent Lacerra. "It was quite amazing. I've never seen anything like it before. It seemed so real, so overwhelming."

Through the morning, agents worked in the house, taking computers and boxes out of it, he said.

A Watertown Police lieutenant referred questions to the FBI.

Governor Deval Patrick issued a statement saying that law enforcement officials had "conducted a safe and successful operation this morning in connection with the the ongoing investigation of the attempted bombing in Times Square."

He said he had been fully briefed by public safety officials and over the last several days and thanked them all for their "close, professional and effective coordination."

FBI agents also questioned employees at another Brookline gas station, at the corner of Cypress Street and Route 9, this morning. They asked about a recently hired Pakistani employee who apparently worked Sundays for the last several months, said Hiyam Jabour, the cashier at the Mobil station, who was interviewed.

Neither she nor the mechanic from the garage said they knew the man, noting that he worked on a different shift. They referred questions to Elias Audy, the owner of the station, who also owns the gas station on Harvard Street. Leaving the Harvard Street location this morning, Audy had no comment for reporters.

But Bill Audy, brother of Elias Audy, said he “wants the truth to be known.” He said he did not know the Pakistani employee but said that he worked at the gas station for “a very short time.” He said the real victim is his brother.

“This is a mess,” Audy said. “I think the media has destroyed my brother’s business. If I’m an outsider, I’ve got to wonder if the owners of the gas station are terrorists. He’s not happy about this.”

Faisal Shahzad, 30, was arrested a little more than two days after a crude car bomb was found on May 1 in a smoking car in Times Square. US officials have said it was very likely that the Pakistani Taliban played a role in the failed attempt.

David Abel and Jonathan Saltzman of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Sarah Thomas contributed to this report.

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