A man of Pakistani origin has been arrested on suspicion he bought the vehicle used in the failed car bombing in New York’s Times Square last weekend, a law enforcement official told Reuters early on Tuesday.
FBI spokesperson Richard Kolko confirmed “a person has been detained” and another law enforcement source said the suspect “was arrested while trying to leave the country”.
One official said the man was arrested at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York.
The New York Times said the man was a naturalised US citizen from Pakistan who lives in neighbouring Connecticut and recently returned from a trip to Pakistan.
The sources said the arrested man was believed to be the buyer of the 1993 Nissan sport utility vehicle used to carry the crude bomb made of fuel and fireworks into Times Square as it was packed with people on a warm Saturday evening.
For New Yorkers who bore the brunt of the September 11 attacks by al-Qaeda militants in 2001, the scare was a reminder that their city of eight million people is under constant threat.
“Investigators who were tracking the man were also exploring whether he or others who might have been involved in the attempted bombing had been in contact with people or groups overseas,” the Times said, citing unnamed federal officials.
Law enforcement sources told Reuters that Saturday’s attempted attack may have involved more than one person and could have international ties.
The hunt for the suspects has now been taken over by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, led by the Justice Department, as investigators pore over surveillance camera footage, the Pathfinder and the bomb parts for clues.
‘Intended to terrorise’
Street vendors selling T-shirts and handbags alerted police to the smoking and sparking Nissan Pathfinder that was parked awkwardly with its engine running and hazard lights on near a Broadway theatre where Disney’s The Lion King is performed.
The Pathfinder, with a licence plate taken from a car now in a repair shop in Connecticut, was rigged with propane gas cylinders, petrol cans, fertiliser, fireworks and timing devices when it was found in Times Square.
“I would say that that was intended to terrorise,” White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs told reporters. “And I would say that whoever did that would be categorised as a terrorist.”
The incident had little effect on Monday on a broadly stronger stock market and Treasury bonds stayed lower in a similarly muted reaction, with attention focused on encouraging economic data and reduced anxiety over Greece.
The registered owner of the vehicle told police he sold it three weeks ago without any paperwork to a 29- or 30-year-old man described as Hispanic or Middle Eastern, the sources told Reuters.
Several officials cautioned against drawing conclusions because the investigation was still in the early stages.
“I can’t at this point rule in or out the possibility of international connections,” said one senior US intelligence official.
The New York Times said investigators appear to be assigning less importance to a white man in his 40s seen removing a shirt in a surveillance video released by police.
Police said they plan to release a second video, taken by a tourist in Times Square and showing a man running near the scene at about the time of the incident.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg described the failed bomb attack as an “amateurish job” but authorities said the device could have created a deadly fireball had it detonated.
“If anything was made clear on Saturday night, it’s that New York is a target,” US Senator Charles Schumer, a Brooklyn native, said as he urged Washington to give the city $30-million to boost security.
US Attorney General Eric Holder vowed that those responsible would be arrested.
“We have made really substantial progress. We have some good leads,” Holder told reporters in Washington. “We are following a number of other leads as well.”
The Taliban in Pakistan said on Sunday it planted the bomb to avenge the killing in April of al-Qaeda’s two top leaders in Iraq. New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Bloomberg have said there was “no evidence” to support that claim.
But former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel, who oversaw an Obama administration strategy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan last year, cautioned against dismissing a possible role of the Pakistani Taliban in the failed car bomb.
“They have said they want to attack inside the United States,” Riedel said before the Times report, adding there was “a very serious possibility” the incident involved “some Pakistani-American who has never built a car bomb before in his life but who is being coached either by phone or internet.” – Reuters