New York very lucky after bomb attempt

A crude car
bomb of propane, gasoline and fireworks was discovered in a smoking Nissan
Pathfinder in the heart of Times Square on Saturday evening, prompting the
evacuation of thousands of tourists and theatergoers on a warm and busy night.

Although the
device had apparently started to detonate, there was no explosion, and early on
Sunday the authorities were still seeking a suspect and motive.

“We are very
lucky,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a 2:15am press conference. “We avoided
what could have been a very deadly event.”

A large swath
of Midtown — from 43rd Street to 48th Street and from Sixth to Eighth Avenues —
was closed for much of the evening after the Pathfinder was discovered just off
Broadway on 45th Street. Several theaters and stores, as well as the South
Tower of the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel, were evacuated.

Mr. Bloomberg
was joined by Governor David A. Paterson, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and other officials at the early-morning press conference to give a chronology
of the vehicle’s discovery, its disarming, and the investigation that has been
launched. The mayor and police commissioner had returned early from the annual
White House correspondents’ dinner in Washington.

At 6:28pm Mr.
Kelly said, a video surveillance camera recorded what was believed to be the
dark green Nissan SUV driving west on 45th Street.

Moments later,
a T-shirt vendor on the sidewalk saw smoke coming out of vents near the back
seat of the vehicle, which was now parked awkwardly at the curb with its engine
running and its hazard lights on. The vendor called to a mounted police
officer, the mayor said, who smelled gunpowder when he approached the SUV and
called for assistance. The police began evacuating Times Square, starting with
businesses along Seventh Avenue, including a Foot Locker store and a McDonald’s
restaurant.

Police
officers from the emergency service unit and firefighters flooded the area and
were troubled by the hazard lights and running engine, and by the fact that the
SUV was oddly angled in the street. At this point, a firefighter from Ladder 4
reported hearing several “pops” from within the vehicle. The police also
learned that the Pathfinder had the wrong license plates on it.

Members of the
Police Department’s bomb squad donned protective gear, broke the Pathfinder’s
back windows and sent in a robotic device to observe it, said Deputy
Commissioner Paul J. Browne, the police department’s chief spokesman.

Inside, they
discovered three canisters of propane like those used for barbecue grills, two
five-gallon cans of gasoline, consumer-grade fireworks — the apparent source of
the “pops” — and two clocks with batteries, the mayor said. He said the device looked
amateurish.

Mr. Browne
said: “It appeared it was in the process of detonating, but it malfunctioned.”

Bomb squad
officers also discovered a two-by-two-by-four-foot metal box — described as a
gun locker — in the SUV that was taken to the Police Department’s firing range
at Rodman’s Neck in the Bronx to be destroyed, Mr. Kelly said. It was not
immediately known what, if anything, was inside it.

Officials said
they had no reports of anyone seen running from the vehicle. Mr. Kelly said
police were scouring the area for any additional videotapes but noted that the SUVs
windows were tinted, which could further hamper any efforts to identify those
inside. Some of the surveillance cameras nearby were located in closed businesses,
and the mayor made clear it would take time to review all available tapes.

“We have no
idea who did this or why,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

Kevin B.
Barry, a former supervisor in the New York Police Department bomb squad, said
that if the device had functioned, “it would be more of an incendiary event”
than an explosion.

The license
plates on the Nissan were registered to another vehicle — a Ford pickup truck
that was taken to a junkyard near Bridgeport, Conn., within the last two weeks,
according to a law enforcement official. The previous owner of the Ford was
interviewed Saturday night by the FBI, but it did not appear he was regarded as
a suspect. Still, the junkyard was considered a primary target of the initial
investigation.

The SUVs
standard vehicle identification number had been removed, Mr. Bloomberg said,
and investigators were scouring it to see if the number appeared elsewhere.

The White House said President Obama had been briefed
on the episode and had pledged federal assistance in the investigation.

Times Square
on a Saturday night is one of the busiest and most populated locations in the
city, and has long been seen as a likely target for some kind of attack.

Most of the
streets that had been closed around Times Square reopened around 5:15am;
traffic on 45th Street opened at 7:30am about 90 minutes after the Pathfinder
had been towed away.

For most of
the night, a maze of metal barricades kept pedestrians south of 43rd Street. In
the center of Times Square, dozens of police and fire vehicles were parked on
Broadway and Seventh Avenue, but in Times Square between 42nd and 43rd Streets,
tourists milled or sat at tables, much as they do on any other Saturday night.
On Eighth Avenue at around 11:30 p.m., people carrying theater playbills were
directed west on 44th Street out to Eighth Avenue.

Many people
stayed to watch after being shut out of Broadway shows or prevented from
getting back to their hotels, trading rumors about what was happening. Many
guests at the New York Marriott Marquis hotel at 1535 Broadway were being kept in
an auditorium at the hotel, Mr. Kelly said.

Onlookers
crowded against the barricades, taking pictures with cellphones, although only
a swarm of fire trucks and police cars was visible.

Pota
Manolakos, an accountant from Montreal, was not able to return to her room at
the Edison Hotel with her husband and 6-year-old son for several hours.

She said she
asked a police officer what was going on, and the officer told her: “Lady, take
your kid and get out of here. There’s a threat, take your kid and get out of
here.”

In December,
the police closed Times Square for nearly two hours as they investigated a
suspiciously parked van, delaying the rehearsal of the New Year’s ball drop.
However, the van turned out to contain nothing but clothing

WORLDbombSTORY

A bomb technician examines a Nissan Pathfinder sport-utility vehicle that was packed with bomb materials in New York’s Times Square
Source: Washington Post
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