Holder defends process for terrorists as more arrests made in bomb probe

Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderHolder defends Mueller: 'No basis to question the integrity of Mueller' Kamala Harris slams Sessions on criminal justice Deputy AG backs Sessions' tough on crime policy MORE defended the use of the criminal justice system to apprehend and try would-be terrorists and pledged to track down and punish those responsible for the attempted car bombing in Times Square.

Holder testified to the House Judiciary Committee hours after federal agents arrested at least three people and executed search warrants at locations in the Northeast in connection with the investigation of the Times Square incident. Twelve days ago, the car bombing plot failed when the explosives did not detonate and civilians alerted police about smoke emanating from a parked SUV.

During the hearing, Holder told the committee that “several individuals encountered during those searches” were taken into federal custody for alleged immigration violations.

“These 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.

Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Pakistan, allegedly attempted to detonate the SUV loaded with fertilizer on a busy street in Times Square. According to an FBI complaint, Shahzad took responsibility for the plot and said he had been through training at a Pakistani Taliban camp. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the botched bombing attempt and vowed to carry out other attacks in the United States.

Despite a torrent of criticism from Republicans about trying suspected terrorists, including Shahzad, in federal criminal court, Holder on Thursday again defended his decision to do so.

“As one of the counterterrorism tools available to us, the criminal justice system has proven its strength in both incapacitating terrorists and gathering valuable intelligence – most recently in the case of Faisal Shahzad,” he said.

Several Republicans at the hearing criticized Holder’s and the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policies and continued to claim that the country was simply lucky that the attempted bombings in Times Square and onboard a jetliner Christmas Day did not occur.

“Our national security policy should consist of more than relying on dumb bombers and smart citizens,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the ranking Republican on the panel. “Sooner or later, a terrorist is going to build a bomb that works.”

Smith also said using criminal courts, instead of military commissions, to try terrorists “makes Americans less safe.”

Under direct questioning from Smith, Holder also refused to say whether “radical Islam” motivated Shahzad or terrorists in general.

“There are a variety of reasons why people have taken these actions,” Holder said. “I think we have to look at each individual case…radical Islam could have been one of the reasons…there are a variety of reasons why people do these things.”