Cops Say Neither License Plates nor VIN on Bomb SUV Were Reported Stolen

While someone tried to obliterate the unique Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) from one or more parts of the SUV used in Saturday night's unsuccessful Times Square bombing, investigators have succeeded in recovering the VIN from the engine block of the Nissan Pathfinder, a senior law-enforcement official says. The official, who asked for anonymity when discussing a continuing investigation said the VIN—a unique multiple-letter and digit-identification code stamped at the factory by car manufacturers on the frame and other key parts of each car before it is released for retail sale—has led them to the bomb vehicle's registered owner, whose identity authorities are not making public for the moment.

The official said that neither the VIN, nor the Connecticut license plates that were attached to the SUV at the time of the attempted bombing, were reported stolen, although investigators say that the plates were registered with Connecticut authorities for a different vehicle. Asked whether this made the registered owner of the SUV in particular a potential witness in the case, the official declined to comment. While authorities know the identity of the registered owner, it is unclear if or when they will or have contacted that person. VIN information recovered from the engine blocks of the vehicles used in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City proved critical in identifying the perpetrators of those attacks.

The successful identification of the bomb vehicle's registered owner, apparently by New York police experts who took the car in for examination after rendering its explosive contents harmless, is one of a number of clues that investigators now hope will lead quickly to the identification and apprehension of the person or persons who planted the booby-trapped SUV on 45th Street just west of Seventh Avenue at the heart of New York's Times Square entertainment district. Among other potential clues, some of which were enumerated by NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly at a lengthy press conference on Sunday afternoon: surveillance camera video of the car turning from Broadway on to 45th Street and other video that appears to show a white man, about 40 years old, walking away from the SUV, looking back, then taking off a dark shirt and changing to a red shirt.

Kelly said that the bomb itself comprised a detonator composed of two alarm clocks, a batch of widely available firecrackers known as M-88s, two five-gallon containers of gasoline, three propane tanks, and what was described as a gun locker filled with a substance that could be fertilizer. The apparent idea behind the bomb was that the clocks would send an electrical charge to the firecrackers, which in turn would ignite the gasoline, which in turn would detonate the propane tanks (and maybe the gun case, if it really does turn out to have been filled with an explosive substance), creating a fireball that would blow the vehicle and the gas tanks to pieces, sending deadly shrapnel in all directions. However, experts have said that such a bomb in practice is very difficult to build in a way that will work, because the propane tanks are made of thick metal designed to be strongly fire-resistant.

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In 2007, as we reported earlier on Sunday, would-be bombers parked two vehicles rigged with similar propane-tank bombs near Piccadilly Circus, London's equivalent of Times Square. But the bombs failed to explode, and the perpetrators later tried to use a similarly rigged vehicle in a suicide attack on the airport in Glasgow, Scotland. The only fatality in that attack was one of the bombers; the other bomber, an Iraqi doctor, was later convicted and jailed by British authorities. Current and former counterterrorism officials say that the similarities between the Times Square incident and the 2007 incident are striking, not only because of similar bomb designs and also targeting of the bombs but also because among the key clues are security-camera pictures of potential perpetrators.

For the moment, Kelly and other authorities are dismissing a claim by the Pakistani Taliban that it had a role in the attack, and are playing down—but not entirely ruling out—the possibility that the attack was related to recent threats against the creators of South Park and Comedy Central, the cable channel that airs the show. Comedy Central heavily censored a recent episode of the cartoon series, which sought to lampoon the Prophet Muhammad. If they have any real sense as of Sunday night about what the real motives were for the attempted attack, so far the cops aren't saying.

Cops Say Neither License Plates nor VIN on Bomb SUV Were Reported Stolen | U.S.