Authorities have identified the buyer of the SUV used in a failed Times Square terror attack and are seeking him as a potential suspect, two law enforcement officials said Monday.
The buyer is a man of Pakistani descent who recently traveled to Pakistan. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is at a sensitive stage.
The officials say the man is a Connecticut resident who paid cash weeks ago for the SUV parked in Times Square on Saturday and rigged with a crude propane-and-gasoline bomb.
The car's last registered owner was questioned Sunday by investigators, and said he sold the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder to a man he did not know three weeks ago to a stranger, one official said.
Officials say the owner, whose name has not been released, is not considered a suspect in the bomb scare. But the revelation of the sale led authorities one step closer to whoever was aiming for mass carnage on a busy Saturday night in the heart of Times Square and achieved only streets emptied for hours of thousands of tourists.
New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne confirmed Monday that investigators had spoken to the registered owner.
The vehicle identification number had been removed from Pathfinder's dashboard, but it was stamped on the engine, and investigators used it to find the owner on record.
"The discovery of the VIN on the engine block was pivotal in that it led to identifying the registered owner," Browne said. "It continues to pay dividends."
Investigators tracked the license plates to a used auto parts shop in Stratford, Conn., where they discovered the plates were connected to a different vehicle.
They also spoke to the owner of an auto sales shop in nearby Bridgeport because a sticker on the Pathfinder indicated the SUV had been sold by his dealership. Owner Tom Manis said there was no match between the identification number the officers showed him and any vehicle he sold.
In New York, police and FBI examined hundreds of hours of video from around the area. They had initially wanted to speak with a man in his 40s who was videotaped shedding his shirt near the Pathfinder, but backed away as the buyer became clear. The man had not been considered a suspect and officials said it's possible he was just a bystander. Police also received around 120 tips, and three of which were considered promising, and collected forensic evidence from the Pathfinder.
In Washington, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Saturday's attempted bombing was a terrorist act.
A motive was unclear. Barry Mawn, who led New York's FBI office at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and has since retired, said suspects could range from those sympathetic to the interest of U.S. enemies to a domestic terrorist to a disgruntled employee who worked in Times Square.
The Pakistani Taliban appeared to claim responsibility for the bomb in three videos that surfaced after the weekend scare, monitoring groups said. New York officials said police have no evidence to support the claims. It was unclear if the buyer of the SUV had any relationship to the group.
The SUV was parked near offices of Viacom Inc., which owns Comedy Central. The network recently aired an episode of the animated show "South Park" that the group Revolution Muslim had complained insulted the Prophet Muhammad by depicting him in a bear costume.
The date of the botched bombing — May 1 — was International Workers Day, a traditional date for political demonstrations, and thousands had rallied for immigration reform that day in New York.
Security had been also been tight in the city in advance of a visit to the United Nations by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a nuclear weapons conference.
Police said the bomb could have produced "a significant fireball" and sprayed shrapnel with enough force to kill pedestrians and knock out windows. The SUV was parked on a street lined with Broadway theaters and restaurants and full of people out on a Saturday night.
The SUV was captured on video crossing an intersection at 6:28 p.m. Saturday. A vendor pointed out the Pathfinder to an officer about two minutes later. Times Square, clogged with tourists on a warm evening, was shut down for 10 hours.
The explosive device had cheap-looking alarm clocks connected to a 16-ounce can filled with fireworks, which were apparently intended to detonate the gas cans and set the propane afire in a chain reaction, said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
A metal rifle cabinet placed in the cargo area was packed with fertilizer, but NYPD bomb experts believe it was not a type volatile enough to explode like the ammonium nitrate grade fertilizer used in previous terrorist bombings.
The exact amount of fertilizer was unknown. Police estimated the cabinet weighed 200 to 250 pounds when they pulled it from the vehicle.
To experts in explosives, it seemed to be the work of someone who really didn't know what they were doing.
Chris Falkenberg, president of Insite Security, which works with Fortune 500 companies, said the device, as described by authorities, "doesn't differ much at all from 'The Anarchist Cookbook'" — the underground 1971 manual for homemade explosives.
He said revelations that the fertilizer used could not have exploded suggested "this is amateur hour. My kids could build a better bomb than this."
President Barack Obama telephoned handbag vendor Duane Jackson, 58, of Buchanan, N.Y., on Monday to commend him for alerting authorities to the smoking SUV. The White House said Obama thanked Jackson for his vigilance and for acting quickly to prevent serious trouble.
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