The license plate had been switched and the vehicle identification number stripped from the dashboard of the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder holding a crude bomb in Times Square. Smoke from the faulty firecracker detonators might have ruined evidence.
Then investigators managed to recover the VIN, hidden on the SUV's engine block - and thus began a chase that led to the arrest of the would-be bomber 53 hours and 20 minutes after the smoking vehicle was spotted on one of the busiest streets in America.
A Pakistani-born U.S. citizen, Faisal Shahzad, was hauled off a flight to Dubai and arrested late Monday; federal authorities say he has admitted to plotting the attack. He was charged Tuesday with terrorism and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.
"Jack Bauer might have caught him in '24'," said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, referring to Fox's popular TV show "24." "But in the real world, 53's not bad."
The investigation's clock started ticking at 6:28 p.m. Saturday when a security camera captured images of the dark-colored Pathfinder with tinted windows parked on West 45th Street, in an area lined with Broadway theaters and restaurants.