NEW YORK – A Pakistani man believed to be the driver of an SUV used as a car bomb in a failed terror attack on Times Square was taken into custody early this morning by federal and local police officials while trying to leave the country, a law enforcement official said.
The suspect, Faisal Shahzad, was identified by customs agents at John F. Kennedy International Airport and was stopped before boarding an Emirates airlines flight to Dubai, according to officials who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation. He had recently returned from a five-month trip to Pakistan.
He was being held in New York.
Law enforcement officials say Shahzad bought the SUV, a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder, from a Connecticut man about three weeks ago and paid cash.
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 restaurants and Broadway theaters, including one showing “The Lion King,” and full of people Saturday night.
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 of record. The discovery was “pivotal in that it led to the identifying the registered owner,” said Paul Browne, chief New York Police Department spokesman.
Officials say the SUV’s registered owner, whose name has not been released, was not considered a suspect in the bomb scare.
In Washington on Monday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called Saturday’s attempted bombing a terrorist act.
The motive remained unclear. 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 suspect in custody had any relationship to the group.