NEW YORK – A U.S. citizen from Pakistan accused of driving a bomb-laden SUV into Times Square and parking it on a street lined with restaurants and Broadway theaters was to appear in court Tuesday to face charges for his failed attempt to set off a massive fireball and kill Americans, federal authorities said.
The suspect, Faisal Shahzad, was taken into custody late Monday by FBI agents and New York Police Department detectives while trying to leave the country, according to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and other officials. He was identified by customs agents at John F. Kennedy International Airport and was stopped before boarding a flight to Dubai, Holder said early Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
Shahzad is a naturalized U.S. citizen and had recently returned from a five-month trip to Pakistan, where he had a wife, according to law enforcement officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation into the failed car bombing.
Shahzad was being held in New York overnight and couldn't be contacted. A phone number at a listed address for Shahzad in Shelton, Conn., wasn't in service.
The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan was handling the case and said Shahzad would appear in court Tuesday, but the charges were not made public. FBI agents searched the home at a known address for Shahzad in Bridgeport, Conn., early Tuesday, said Kimberly Mertz, the special agent in charge for the FBI in Connecticut. She wouldn't answer questions about the search.
Law enforcement officials say Shahzad bought the SUV, a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder, from a Connecticut man about three weeks ago and paid cash. The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.
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, who told them he had sold the vehicle to a stranger.
As the SUV buyer came into focus, investigators backed off other leads, although Holder said U.S. authorities "will not rest until we have brought everyone responsible to justice," suggesting additional suspects are being sought.
The SUV was parked on Saturday night on a busy midtown Manhattan street near a theater showing "The Lion King." The explosive device inside it had cheap-looking alarm clocks connected to a 16-ounce can filled with fireworks, which were apparently intended to detonate gas cans and set propane tanks afire in a chain reaction "to cause mayhem, to create casualties," police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
A metal rifle cabinet placed in the SUV's cargo area was packed with fertilizer, but NYPD bomb experts believe it was not a type volatile enough to explode like the ammonium nitrate grade fertilizer used in previous terrorist bombings.
Police said the SUV bomb could have produced "a significant fireball" and sprayed shrapnel with enough force to kill pedestrians and knock out windows.
A vendor alerted a police officer to the parked SUV, which was smoking. Times Square, clogged with tourists on a warm evening, was shut down for 10 hours. A bomb squad dismantled the explosive device, and no one was hurt.
But Holder said Americans should remain vigilant.
"It's clear," he said, "that the intent behind this terrorist act was to kill Americans."
The Pakistani Taliban appeared to claim responsibility in videos that surfaced after the weekend scare, monitoring groups said, but police had 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 of people had rallied for immigration reform that day in New York.