BOSTON, Massachusetts - US investigators found images of a suspect who may have planted the bombs that killed three people and maimed scores more at the Boston marathon, officials said.
No arrest has been made. But images from a surveillance camera and still pictures could mark a breakthrough ahead of a visit to the city by US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle in what was being billed as a mission of "healing."
Two days after two bombs tore through crowds on the marathon finish line, wounding 180 people, Boston remained on edge.
The federal courthouse and part of a hospital used for the victims were briefly evacuated, while conflicting reports of an arrest brought a stern rebuke from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Graphic locating the first and second blasts at the Boston marathon where at least three people were killed and more than 180 were injured on Monday.
But a law enforcement official told AFP that "there is an image of a person, of a potential suspect." Investigators were working "to locate and identify that individual," the official added.
The Boston Globe said the images may have captured the suspect planting one of the two bombs. Separate media reports indicated there were pictures of the suspect running away while other people slumped to the ground during the blast.
With no claim of responsibility made for the attack, the FBI said it has launched a "worldwide" hunt.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick appealed for patience over the pace of the investigation.
"They are making progress. But it's going to take time," Patrick said on CNN. "Every hour, we're closer."
The FBI released photographs of the mangled metal remnants of a pressure cooker believed to have been used for one of the bombs, which sprayed nails, ball bearings and metal pellets into the crowds.
The lid of one pressure cooker was found on the roof of a nearby hotel.
Doctors at hospitals where the injured were taken say ball bearings and nails taken from patients were being used in the investigation.
Federal officials run towards the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse following a "code red" April 17, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Boston's federal courthouse and part of the Brigham and Women's Hospital, where many victims were taken, were briefly evacuated on Wednesday.
George Velmahos, Massachusetts General Hospital's chief of trauma surgery, said the metal was being handed over to police. He said 12 nails were taken from inside one patient alone.
Peter Burke, chief trauma surgeon at Boston Medical Center, said some of the nails were about two inches (five centimeters) long.
US authorities have thrown virtually every investigative agency into the hunt for the bombers.
Obama has condemned the attack as "an act of terror" and vowed that the attackers "will feel the full weight of justice."
He will be joined by his wife to attend a special inter-faith service for the victims at Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Thursday morning.
About 100 of the injured have left Boston hospitals, but about 10 remain in critical condition and will require new operations.
Boston's federal courthouse and part of the Brigham and Women's Hospital, where many victims were taken, were evacuated on Wednesday.
Hundreds of people went to the courthouse after reports that a suspect had been arrested for the attacks.
But the reports were denied by Boston police and the FBI criticized what it called a number of "inaccurate" press reports since the attacks.
"Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting," it said in a statement.
Boston has held emotional tributes to the dead, who include eight-year-old Martin Richard, Boston University graduate student Lu Lingzi of China and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell.
About 1,000 people attended a candlelight vigil in a park near the boy's home on Tuesday night and hundreds went to other events in the city and at the university. Thousands of tributes to Lu were posted on Chinese websites. - AFP