From NBC's Mike Kosnar
There has been some confusion over the actual arrest of Faisal Shahzad last night at JFK and whether the plane left the gate as well as how he was allowed on the plane in the first place.
This is how a law enforcement official explained it to NBC News in the last hour:
Shahzad boarded the plane and the door was closed, but the plane never left the gate, it never moved.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials opened the door back up and boarded the plane, removing Shahzad.
The plane was then cleared to leave the gate and did so. Moments later, officials thought better of it and decided they needed to rescreen passengers and cargo and brought the plane back.
In other words, the plane never actually left the gate with Shahzad on it.
As for the no-fly list issue, this same law enforcement official says Shahzad "was added to the no-fly list as a result of late-breaking developments in the investigation. The Transportation Safety Administration sent notifications to airlines; however his information had not yet been populated in the airline's system to the point of triggering an automated alert.
CBP officers discovered the suspect's intentions to leave the U.S. based on a lookout created by CBP earlier in the day and acted on that information to apprehend him."
*** UPDATE *** NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports that a senior U.S. official familiar with events surrounding the capture of Shahzad says if the security system had worked properly, "He should have never been able to get on that airplane."
According to the official, Shahzad's name was put onto the U.S. "no-fly list" about 11 a.m. Monday, some 12 hours before he was taken into custody aboard that United Arab Emirates flight that pulled away from the gate at JFK, bound for Dubai. As required, once the plane was locked up and started to pull away from the gate, the airline submitted the final manifest to customs. According to one official, "We're extremely fortunate that alert agents caught the name, and ordered the plane to return to the gate."
But the official says Shahzad's name should have set off alarms throughout the ticketing and boarding process before he ever buckled his seat belt. The system should have first been triggered when he purchased the ticket. If he purchased the ticket before his name was placed on the "no-fly list," then the airline and authorities should have been alerted when he got his boarding pass, either from an agent or one of the self-service kiosks. That's especially true on an international flight, because his passport would have been electronically scanned before he was issued a boarding pass. Even at the boarding gate, there are systems that alert TSA and customs officials to someone on the "no-fly list" attempting to board a flight.
Although Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano said even if the plane would have taken off, U.S. officials had the authority to turn the plane around, one official pointed out that since the suspect had allegedly attempted to set off a bomb in Times Square, there's no predicting what may have happened on board the plane in flight.
"She was just attempting to put lipstick on a pig," the official said. "If that plane would have gotten into the air, heads would have rolled. We need to do a better job."