Investigators probing the failed Times Square bombing arrested several people during raids in New York, Boston and Philadelphia suburbs on Thursday, but officials said there was no new attack threat.
Three people were taken into federal custody for alleged immigration violations in the raids, said authorities, who would not elaborate on any link between those detained and the incident on May 1, when a car containing a crude bomb was found parked in the busy New York neighbourhood.
“Just this morning, we executed search warrants in several locations … in connection with the investigation into the attempted bombing,” Attorney General Eric Holder told the House Judiciary Committee in Washington.
“The searches are the product of evidence that has been gathered in the investigation since the attempted Times Square bombing and do not relate to any known immediate threat to the public or active plot against the United States,” he said.
Three people were taken into custody for alleged immigration-related violations, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Washington.
The New York searches occurred in the towns of Shirley and Centereach on suburban Long Island, while the searches in New Jersey took place in Cherry Hill and in Camden, not far from Philadelphia. A law enforcement source said the New Jersey raids took place at a residence and a print shop.
The FBI said there were no arrests in New York or in New Jersey.
An FBI source said there was also a raid in Maine, though ICE officials did not immediately confirm this.
The Boston-area searches occurred at a house in Watertown, where two people were known to have been taken into custody, and a gasoline station in affluent Brookline.
Federal agents could be seen carrying boxes, envelopes and a crowbar out of the multifamily building in Watertown, a working-class town with a large Middle-Eastern community.
The people taken into custody had been under surveillance for some time, said Col. Marian McGovern of the Massachusetts State Police, but she declined to say for how long.
Authorities have stepped up surveillance during large public gatherings such as sporting events since the failed Times Square bombing, McGovern said at a Boston news conference.
Governor Deval Patrick added: “There is no basis for believing there is a threat to the people of Massachusetts.”
Vincent Lacerra, who lives across the street from the searched home in Watertown, said he heard a commotion outside at about 6 a.m. (1000 GMT) and the words, “FBI! Don’t move, put your hands up!”
He said he saw some 20 agents with guns drawn, and a man was taken from the house and put into an ICE van.
The searches come in the wake of the arrest of Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad, who was detained aboard a Dubai-bound jetliner two days after the crude car bomb was found parked in Times Square.
He has been charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and trying to kill and maim people.
Shahzad, 30, who was born in Pakistan and became a U.S. citizen last year, has admitted to the failed plot and to receiving bomb-making training in a Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold in Pakistan, prosecutors said, but he claims to have acted alone.
Investigators are looking at possible links to the Pakistani Taliban and a Kashmiri Islamist group.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the failed bombing attempt. If proven, it would be the group’s first act in the United States.
(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington and Daniel Trotta, Michelle Nichols and Christine Kearney in New York; Editing by Philip Barbara)