Times Square Bomber Made Relatively Clever Efforts to Cover Tracks

While investigators and experts are saying that the bomb which authorities defused in an SUV at New York's Times Square on Saturday night was so crudely designed and constructed as to be almost idiotic, some investigators also say that one reason that the would-be bomber or bombers have not yet been arrested is that they made relatively sophisticated efforts to cover their tracks and conceal their identity (or identities).

As we reported on Sunday, the Nissan Pathfinder in which the bomb was installed was carrying at least one Connecticut license plate which was registered to a different vehicle. Also, some effort had apparently been made by the would-be bomber to obliterate from at least some of the car's parts the unique Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), stamped at the factory onto the car's frame and its major components.

However, police investigators managed to retrieve the VIN from the Pathfinder's engine block, as they had done during the investigations of the 1993 World Trade Center and 1995 Oklahoma City bombings, both of which wreaked havoc when they exploded and destroyed not only the vehicles which carried the bombs but also their chosen targets. Investigators were reported to be chasing both the registered owners of the SUV in which the bomb was installed and the Connecticut vehicle from which the plate on the bomb vehicle had been lifted, although there are some indications that these people may be regarded more as potential witnesses than suspects.

As for the suspected bomber or bombers, a law-enforcement official close to the investigation told Declassified that the perpetrator(s) had taken other, considerably more "sophisticated," measures to try to conceal their identities, or mislead investigators regarding who carried out the attack. The official, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said that the details of these measures remained tightly held while investigators worked to pierce the fake trails laid by the would-be attackers, and that this is one reason why suspect[s] have not yet been taken into custody.

The fact that whoever planted the bomb took relatively sophisticated measures to cover their trail contrasts sharply with the widespread view among official investigators and experts that the bomb itself was of such a primitive and amateurish design that it was very unlikely that it ever would have completely detonated. A second law-enforcement official indicated there are even questions as to whether the type of fertilizer which was found in a gun container apparently rigged to be part of the bomb's main explosive charge was the kind of fertilizer rich in ammonium nitrate widely used in past terrorist bombs, including the Oklahoma City bomb. The official said that from what is known of the bomb's construction, it might have been assembled based on a cursory reading of newspaper stories about past bombings. Terrorism experts say that better bomb-making designs can be found through online searches, though this is also a hit-or-miss proposition, since many bomb recipes posted on the Internet are of dubious provenance and validity.

According to a third official source, the type of device found in Times Square is fairly rare in the annals of terrorist bombs. The bomb was composed of the kind of household components—propane tanks, alarm clocks, gasoline cans, a gun carrier—that could be bought at hardware or household goods stores (except for the M-88 firecrackers used in the would-be detonator, which would have to be purchased in a state like Pennsylvania or Virginia where firecracker sales are legal). However, because propane tanks, which in this case apparently were intended to be the bomb's main explosive charge, are made of thick metal and designed to be fire resistant, a hot fire would have to burn for an extended period of time before the tanks exploded; in this case, emergency services arrived on the scene even before the initial firecracker detonators had initiated the gasoline which apparently was supposed to be the bomb's second stage.

According to the third official source, among the only terrorists known to have used this kind of car bomb in the past are Protestant terrorists in Northern Ireland—whose bombs failed to explode—as well as Lebanese jihadists who tried to attack trains in Germany in July 2006 using similar devices. As we reported on Sunday, in 2007 two vehicles containing devices loosely similar to the Saturday night's bomb were planted near Piccadilly Circus, London's equivalent to Times Square, but also failed to detonate.

Several officials told Declassified that news reports on Monday asserting that there was an international connection to the Times Square incident are premature, although an overseas link has not been ruled out. The officials continued to express extreme skepticism about a claim from the Pakistani Taliban that it had orchestrated the failed attack. An official familiar with U.S. efforts to find an international connection said that he was unaware that investigators had yet found any link between the Times Square incident and any major known foreign terror group.

Times Square Bomber Made Relatively Clever Efforts to Cover Tracks | U.S.