A man has been arrested over Saturday's failed car bombing in Times Square as he was trying to leave the country. US investigators say the suspect, an American citizen of Pakistani origin, was identified at midnight at John F. Kennedy International Airport and is now being held in custody in New York.
It is believed he recently returned from a trip to Pakistan and where he bought the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder used in the failed car bomb three weeks ago. The SUV was rigged with a crude propane-and-gasoline bomb. It had cheap-looking alarm clocks connected to a 16-ounce (454-gram) can filled with fireworks.
Previously released images from a grainy 20-second video of a man removing his sweater in an alleyway off Times Square provide a key to the inquiry as police comb through thousands of hours of surveillance footage for clues to the perpetrators of the plot.
US law enforcement authorities released a clip of a white man in his forties acting, they said, furtively just yards from a sports utility vehicle (SUV) packed with crude explosives that led to an evacuation and a full-scale bomb scare.
Police were also examining further evidence after new footage from a tourist's camcorder appeared to show someone running from the scene.
The New York police commissioner, Ray Kelly, said the video showed a man running north on Broadway, apparently away from the green Nissan Pathfinder SUV that had been packed with propane gas, petrol and fireworks.
New York's police commissioner, Ray Kelly, admitted the city had been lucky to escape disaster. "If it [the bomb] had detonated, it's my judgment that it would have caused casualties, there would have been a significant fireball," he said. "I'm told the vehicle itself would have at least been cut in half."
Saturday's incident was at least the 11th foiled terrorist plot in the US since the 9/11 attacks. One theory is that the target of the Times Square bomb was the media group Viacom, whose headquarters are nearby. The US company caused controversy by broadcasting on its Comedy Central network an episode of the cartoon South Park which poked fun at Islamic sensitivity over images of the prophet Mohammed by showing him dressed in a bear suit.
"It's out there as one theory that's been posited," said Janet Napolitano, secretary of US homeland security. But she added that it was "speculation" at this stage.
Police have asked for help identifying a man who paused to change his clothes in Shubert Alley, just behind a theatre showing The Lion King. In a CCTV clip, the man glances around him before hurrying away.
The SUV at the centre of the failed bombing contained fireworks attached to three tanks of propane gas, of a type often used for barbecues. The concoction was attached to two battery-operated clocks, a metal gun locker stuffed with fertiliser and a pair of five US gallon (19-litre) plastic containers of petrol.
Nearby T-shirt vendors became suspicious when they noticed the car had been abandoned with its hazard warning lights flashing and keys in the ignition.
Licence plates on the vehicle have been traced to a Ford truck in a junkyard in Connecticut, Kramer's Recycling. The yard's owner, Wayne LeBlanc, told reporters he was woken at 3am yesterday by FBI officers who hauled the truck away.
Bruce Hoffman, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University in Washington, said car bombs had been unusual in the US in recent years, with the bombing of an Oklahoma City government building in 1995 being the last successful large-scale attack of its type.
"We haven't had a vehicular bomb in the US for quite some time, although they're not a new thing," said Hoffman. "Puerto Rican independence groups used them back in the 1960s and 1970s."
Yesterday, a group called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the Times Square bomb, posting a video on the internet alleging that the attack was to avenge recent killings by US drone aircraft along the Afghan border. But today a spokesman for the group disowned the video, while experts said TTP has previously declared responsibility for events it had nothing to do with.
"These types of messages aren't directed towards an audience in the US as much as to a local audience," said Hoffman. "Whether truthful or not, they serve the group's own propaganda purposes."
Times Square was shut down for 10 hours following the discovery of the bomb at 6.30pm local time on Saturday. Detectives took to the stage at the end of Broadway musicals to ask for witnesses to any suspicious activity. Thousands of tourists were prevented from returning to their hotels in the densely crowded district.
On Monday, Times Square was returning to normal with hotdog stalls back in place, traffic squeezing through narrow gaps and almost every street reopened.Source