Authorities have identified a Pakistani man as the buyer of the sport utility vehicle used in a failed Times Square terror attack and are seeking him as a potential suspect, two law enforcement officials say.
The buyer recently travelled to Pakistan, said the officials, who 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-petrol bomb.
The car’s last registered owner was questioned on Sunday by investigators, and said he sold the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder to a man he did not know three weeks ago, one official said.
Officials say the previous 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 whomever was aiming for mass carnage on a busy Saturday night in the heart of Times Square and managed to empty the normally-crowded streets for hours.
Car stripped of ID
New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne confirmed on Monday that investigators had spoken to the registered owner.
The vehicle identification number (VIN) 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 licence plates to a used auto parts shop in Stratford, Connecticut, 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.
Hours of video examined
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, three of which were considered promising, and collected forensic evidence from the Pathfinder.
Plot ‘an act of terror’
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 September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and has since retired, said suspects could range from those sympathetic to the interest of US 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.
Possible South Park link
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.