NEW YORK — A suspect in the failed car bomb attack on Times Square was taken into custody late Monday, the Associated Press reported early today, citing a law enforcement official.
The suspect had not been named and was being held in New York, said the official, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.
Law enforcement officials say the suspect is a man of Pakistani descent who recently returned from a trip to Pakistan and paid cash for the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder used in the failed bomb. The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.
The SUV was rigged with a crude propane-and-gasoline bomb and parked in Times Square on Saturday evening. It had cheap-looking alarm clocks connected to a 16-ounce can filled with fireworks.
The car's last registered owner was questioned Sunday by investigators and said the SUV was sold to a stranger three weeks ago, one official told the AP.
New York police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and the FBI declined to comment on reports that the SUV had been sold for $1,800 cash on Craigslist. CNN reported that the transaction took place at a Bridgeport, Conn., shopping center and that the new owner never registered the SUV.
In Bridgeport, the woman who sold the vehicle declined to answer any questions, the New York Times reported Monday.
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 carnage on a busy Saturday night in the heart of Times Square.
Investigators were exploring whether the buyer or others possibly involved in the attempted bombing had contacts, such as telephone calls, with people or organizations overseas, the New York Times reported, citing federal officials. The investigation was shifted Monday to the control of the international terrorism branch of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, a multiagency group led by the Justice Department, said two federal officials who spoke to the newspaper on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
The officials cautioned that the investigation of possible international contacts did not mean there was a connection to a known terrorist group, but they said they were exploring all possibilities and not ruling out anything.
New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne confirmed that investigators had spoken to the registered owner of the SUV.
The vehicle identification number had been removed from the 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.
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, the police and FBI examined hundreds of hours of video from around the area. The AP reported that they had initially wanted to speak with a white man in his 40s who was videotaped shedding his shirt near the Pathfinder, but backed away as the buyer of the SUV became clear. The man in the video had not been considered a suspect and officials said it's possible he was just a bystander.
In Washington, Attorney General Eric Holder said on Monday morning that it was too early to designate the failed bombing as an attempted terrorist incident. By afternoon, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was calling it just that.
"I would say that was intended to terrorize," Gibbs said, sharpening the Obama administration's tone.
Police said the bomb could have produced "a significant fireball" and sprayed shrapnel with enough force to kill pedestrians. The SUV was parked on a street lined with Broadway theaters and restaurants and full of people out on a Saturday night.
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 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 ties 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 Mohammed by depicting him in a bear costume.
The SUV contained an explosive device with cheap-looking alarm clocks connected to a 16-ounce can filled with fireworks, which were apparently intended to detonate gas cans and set propane afire in a chain reaction, the police commissioner said.
A metal rifle cabinet was packed with fertilizer, but New York police bomb experts believe it was not a type volatile enough to explode like the ammonium nitrate grade fertilizer used in previous terrorist bombings.
Information from the New York Times, the Washington Post and Newsday was used in this report.