Police Hunt for the Buyer of SUV Used in Attempted Times Square Car Bombing
By Jill Colvin, Joe Valiquette and Nicole Bode
MANHATTAN — Police are reportedly hunting for a Connecticut man in connection with a failed car bomb attempt in Times Square Saturday night.
The man is a naturalized United States citizen from Pakistan and had recently returned from a trip there, according to the New York Times. Authorities were searching for the man Monday night to arrest him.
The suspect bought the Nissan Pathfinder in an all-cash purchase without any paperwork from the car's owner in Bridgeport, Conn. about three weeks ago, sources said.
The man has been missing since the incident on Saturday night, the Daily News reported. He has not showed up for work or been seen by his girlfriend, the News said.
The registered owner of the Pathfinder used in the attempted bombing told authorities the vehicle was sold to an individual on Craigslist for $1,300 in cash about three weeks ago, a federal law enforcement source told DNAinfo.
The former owner also told the NYPD and the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forcethe the buyer was "Hispanic" or "Middle Eastern." The Pathfinder's former owner reportedly could not remember the buyer's name.
Those at the Bridgeport, Conn. residence of the former owner confirmed they had owned the Pathfinder and had been questioned by the authorities, but bristled at further questions asked by reporters on Monday night.
Neighbors of the SUV's former owners said federal agents went door-to-door in the area on Sunday asking questions about the family who sold the Pathfinder.
The 1993 Nissan Pathfinder had the vehicle identification number scratched off before it was left with the engine running and the hazard lights blinking on W. 45th Street, near Broadway. The car was packed with explosive materials and a makeshift timer, and triggered a massive evacuation Saturday night when it began to pop and emitted a thick cloud of smoke.
A recently-deleted Craigslist ad that appears to belong to the car lists a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder for sale by a private owner in Bridgeport for $1300.
"(sold as is) with 141000 miles CLEAN inside and out," the ad reads.
Another ad on a car sales site touted a recently-fixed alternator and "2 new front tires."
"the oil and spark plug has been changed recently, and it also has a new gas pump, and distributer.It does have some rust as you can see in the picture, but other than that it runs great!! $1,300 OBO," the ad reads.
The latest development in the case came as authorities began to speak of Saturday's attempted bombing as possibly part of an international terrorist plot.
"I would say that was intended to terrorize, and I would say that whomever did that would be categorized as a terrorist," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, according to reports.
And sources in the Obama administration told the Washington Post the attempted bombing appears to have been coordinated by plotters with international links.
The NYPD also reportedly planned to release video surveillance of a man seen running north on Broadway following the attempted bombing.
“It happened just around the time that the fire starts, or the popping starts in the car,” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said on CNN, according to the Times.
It was unclear whether the individual was the same man as the one seen changing his clothes in Shubert Alley in a grainy security video released by police on Sunday.
The man, believed to be in his 40s, peeled off his dark long-sleeve shirt to reveal another shirt beneath it and stuffed the outer layer into his backpack while looking over his shoulder in the direction of the explosions. Police are still searching for him.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned the public on Monday not to rush to judgement, adding that the individual on the tape may not turn out to be a suspect.
“Now he may or may not have been involved in this incident. It was a hot day; maybe he was just changing his shirt, and this is Times Square, where we have the Naked Cowboy," Bloomberg said in a statement.
"But the police look at the all of the videos and anything that relates to it, or is not perfectly normal. We try to investigate and they’re seeking more information about his actions and identity, and we certainly encourage him to come forward and cooperate with the investigation," Bloomberg added.
Officials reportedly traced the Pathfinder using the remaining copies of the vehicle identification number to its registered owner in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The license plates found on the vehicle were traced back to a separate car in Connecticut that was being repaired at an auto shop.
A mechanic at Kramer's Used Auto Parts in Stratford, Conn., told DNAinfo that the plates were stolen off a green truck brought in to the shop about two weeks ago with suspension problems.
"Somebody stole the plates off it," said mechanic Richard King. "The plate came from here. It was taken off the car."
He said the perpetrator would have had to climb the fence or break in to steal the plates.
The shop has security cameras, which police and the FBI screened Monday morning, King said.
But he said the cameras didn't catch the thieves.
"It got under the radar," King added. "It wasn't taken with our knowledge, that's for sure."
Investigators are still poring over hundreds of hours of surveillance footage as they ran down leads in what the Department of Homeland Security has classified as a terror case.
Police were also checking a possible video of the man that was shot by a tourist in Pennsylvania, Bloomberg said.
NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly said investigators had also recovered eight bags of a substance the "look and feel" of fertilizer from the SUV. The fertilizer was later determined to be the non-explosive kind, Bloomberg said Monday.
However, the three propane tanks, two five-gallon containers of gasoline, firecrackers and a makeshift timer that were also found in the vehicle could still have caused serious damage in the busy tourist destination, Kelly said.
“We were lucky it didn’t detonate,” Kelly said at a press conference Sunday. “In my judgment, it would have caused casualties, a significant fireball. I’m told the vehicle itself would have been cut in half.”
The contents of the Pathfinder were turned over to the FBI's crime lab in Quantico, VA for an "exhaustive forensic analysis," FBI spokesman James Margolin said.
"In addition, certain portions of the interior of the Pathfinder are also being sent to the crime lab in an effort to develop fingerprint and DNA evidence," Margolin said.
Kelly said there was no evidence of a link to the Taliban, despite a video released to an Islamist website on Sunday in which a group known as the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.
One of the theories reportedly being considered by police is a possible link to threats received by Comedy Central for airing a controversial “South Park” cartoon mocking the Prophet Muhammed.
The Pathfinder was parked near Comedy Central’s parent company, Viacom.