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Monday, May 3, 2010

Times Square Bomb Threat Linked To Pakistani Man (Terrorism)

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Pakistani Man Sought In NYC Bomb Case

Two NYC law enforcement officials say that authorities have identified the buyer of the sport utility vehicle used in the botched Times Square bombing and are seeking him as a potential suspect.

One of the officials tells The Associated Press that the potential suspect 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.

NBC News' Pete Williams reported the man's name was on an e-mail that was sent to the seller of the car last month, as well as other evidence suggesting he had a role in the attempted bombing.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported on Monday that an FBI-led terrorism task force has taken over the investigation of the failed car bombing in Times Square because of indications it was connected to international terrorism, a senior law enforcement source said.

The probe had been overseen by the New York Police Department. Responsibility for it shifted to a Joint Terrorism Task Force as Obama administration officials said the incident increasingly appears to have been coordinated by more than one person in a plot with international links, the Post reported on its Web site.

The White House, according to the Post, intensified its focus on the failed bombing Saturday in New York City, in which explosives inside a Nissan Pathfinder were set ablaze but failed to detonate at the busy corner of Broadway and 45th Street.

Emerging from a series of briefings, several officials told the Post it was too early to rule out any motive but said the sweeping investigation was turning up new clues.

SUV Sold for cash

A law enforcement official says the registered owner of the SUV used in the botched bombing told investigators he sold it for cash three weeks ago.

The official told The Associated Press that the Connecticut owner questioned Sunday about what happened to the SUV says he sold the vehicle to a stranger.

Officials continued to look into the history of the vehicle as one way to crack the case. The vehicle identification number had been removed from the Pathfinder's dashboard, but it was stamped on the engine and axle, and investigators used it to find the owner of record.

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.

Hundreds of hours of video

In New York, police and FBI were examining hundreds of hours of video from around the area and wanted to speak with a man in his 40s who was videotaped shedding his shirt near the Pathfinder.

The video shows the man slipping down Shubert Alley and taking off his shirt, revealing another underneath. In the same clip, he looks back in the direction of the smoking vehicle and puts the first shirt in a bag.

They traveled to Pennsylvania for video shot by a tourist of a different person and were evaluating the tape and determining whether to make it public.

In Washington, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Saturday's attempted bombing was a terrorist act.

Attorney General Eric Holder, who earlier in the day refused to classify the incident as terrorism, said the bomber intended to spread fear across New York and said investigators had some good leads in addition to the videotape that was released Sunday.

Investigators had not ruled out a range of possible motives, and federal officials said they hadn't narrowed down whether the bomber was homegrown or foreign.

One federal law enforcement official, according to the Washington Post, cautioned that, while investigators are examining unspecified international communications that may be connected to the attack, "that doesn't get you to an international plot, a multi-organizational plot."

"We're just not there," the official told the Post.

Another U.S. official, recounting a conversation with intelligence officials, was quoted in the Washington Post: "Don't be surprised if you find a foreign nexus. ... They're looking at some telltale signs, and they're saying it's pointing in that direction."

‘Every lead has to be pursued’

Early Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told NBC's "Today" show that no suspects or theories had been ruled out.

"Right now, every lead has to be pursued," she said.

And investigators had not ruled out a range of possible motives.

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.

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 for 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. Vendors pointed out the Pathfinder to police 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 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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Sources: MSNBC, Google Maps

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