Vital clues gained from the sale of the SUV used in the botched Times Square bombing plot in New York as the lynchpin in swiftly arresting Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the case who is a naturalised US citizen of Pakistani origin, US investigators said on Tuesday.
Authorities probing the plot also did not have to struggle much to catch Shahzad as they had his recent photograph from his immigration papers. Shahzad, 30, was arrested at JFK International Airport in New York on Monday night as he prepared to flee the country by boarding a flight to Dubai.
Shahzad became a US citizen on April 17, 2009, which aided investigators in the case, CNN quoted a federal law enforcement source as saying.
"Because of his recent change in residency status, authorities had his picture and were able to show it to the SUV, who identified Shahzad as the purchaser," it said.
An FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force had taken over the investigation on Tuesday. The SUV used in the botched bombing plot, a Nissan Pathfinder had its vehicle identification number removed from the dashboard.
Police climbed under the SUV and retrieved the Vehicle Identification Number from the bottom of its engine block. This, said the official, led investigators to the registered owner of the vehicle and then to Shahzad who purchased the SUV.
The Nissan Pathfinder had been sold three weeks ago in a cash deal with no paperwork exchanged, the report said. The $ 1,800 deal was closed at a Connecticut shopping mall, where the buyer handed over the money and drove off, the report said.
A federal law enforcement official told CNN that the information gained from the vehicle's sale was the lynchpin in the case. The report also said that Shahzad nearly made it out of the country.
"They just caught him at the last second," it quoted a source who said Shahzad was on board a flight to Dubai and the jetway had been pulled back when the plane was called to return to the gate.
Shahzad is now believed to be the person who drove the sports utility vehicle used in the attempted bombing of Times Square, a law enforcement official said.
Shahzad claimed to have acted alone in the attempted bombing, said another law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation.
A bomb made up of propane tanks, fertiliser and gasoline failed to detonate inside the SUV on Saturday night at the busy Times Square.
A federal law enforcement source said Shahzad had travelled to Dubai before, most recently in June 2009. He returned to the United States in early April.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has praised the federal and local law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation, saying their focused and swift efforts led to this arrest after only 48 hours of investigation.
"I hope their impressive work serves as a lesson to anyone who would do us harm," he said.