Car Bomb Scares Times Square but Fails to Explode

Police found an “amateurish” but potentially powerful bomb that apparently began to detonate but did not explode in a smoking sport utility vehicle in Times Square, authorities said Sunday. Thousands of tourists were cleared from the streets for 10 hours while the bomb was dismantled.

The Nasdaq building in New York City's Times Square has been blocked off while a bomb squad investigates an abandoned van. Photo: Getty Images

NYC Police found a potentially powerful and dangerous bomb that apparently began to detonate but did not explode in an abandoned van in Times Square, NY, according to Associated Press report.

New York Police have evacuated thousands of tourists from the streets for 10 hours after two vendors alerted police to the suspicious vehicle, which contained three propane tanks, fireworks, two filled 5-gallon gasoline containers, and two clocks with batteries, electrical wire and other components.

The area around 42nd Street between Seventh Avenue and Broadway has been closed to traffic.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: “We avoided what could have been a very deadly event. It certainly could have exploded and had a pretty big fire and a decent amount of explosive impact.”

Bloomberg also said that the bomb was “amateurish” but potentially deadly. “We are very lucky,” he added.

The bomb appeared to be starting to detonate but malfunctioned, top police spokesman Paul Browne said Sunday. Firefighters and witnesses said they heard a popping sound from inside the vehicle.  Browne said that the NYPD bomb squad has seen sophisticated devices before and they described this one as crude, But it was nevertheless lethal.

“If detonated properly, it could have created a large fireball and sprayed shrapnel – metal from the propane tanks and car parts – that could have killed pedestrians in the immediate vicinity,” Browne added.

The metal storage cabinet for rifles weighed roughly 200 pounds, causing suspicion it could contain more powerful explosives meant to be detonated by the fireball, Browne said. Investigators had isolated the locker at a police firing range in the Bronx and were trying to open it remotely to determine what’s inside.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. David Paterson, and Speaker Christine Quinn, right hold a news conference in Times Square early Sunday, May 2, 2010 near where a car carrying a crude bomb was found. Photo: Reuters

The white van is a 1992 Dodge with tinted windows. A placard from a nonexistent law enforcement agency is on the dashboard and it has no licence plates.

No suspects were in custody, though Kelly said a surveillance video showed the car driving west on 45th Street before it parked between Seventh and Eighth avenues. Police were looking for more video from office buildings that weren’t open at the time.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that officials are treating the incident as a potential terrorist attack. The mayor said earlier Sunday: “We have no idea who did this or why.”

A T-shirt vendor alerted police at about 6:30 p.m, the height of dinner hour before theatergoers head to Saturday night shows. Smoke was coming from the back of the dark-colored Pathfinder, its hazard lights were on and “it was just sitting there,” said Rallis Gialaboukis, 37, another vendor who has hawked his wares for 20 years across the street.

Officers say they do not know how long the vehicle has been parked. Photo: Getty Images

Duane Jackson, a 58-year-old handbag vendor from Buchanan, N.Y., said he noticed the car at around 6:30 p.m. and wondered who had left it there. He said: “That was my first thought: Who sat this car here?”

Jackson said he looked in the car and saw keys in the ignition with 19 or 20 keys on a ring. He also said he alerted a passing mounted police officer.

“That’s when the smoke started coming out and then we heard the little pop pop pop like firecrackers going out and that’s when everybody scattered and ran back,” Duane Jackson said.

“Now that I saw the propane tanks and the gasoline, what if that would have ignited?” he said. “I’m less than 8 feet away from the car. We dodged a bullet here.”

A white robotic police arm broke windows of the SUV to remove any explosive materials. A Connecticut license plate on the vehicle did not match up, Bloomberg said. Police interviewed the Connecticut car owner, who told them he had sent the plates to a nearby junkyard, Bloomberg said.

The SUV was towed early Sunday to a forensic lab in Queens, where it was being “thoroughly checked for prints, hairs and fibers,” Browne said Sunday. Napolitano said fingerprints had been recovered from the vehicle.

Times Square is void of pedestrians just south of 46th Street in New York Saturday, May 1, 2010. Photo: Reuters

Police and emergency vehicles shut down the 42nd Street between Seventh Avenue and Broadway. Times Square lies about four traffic-choked miles north of where terrorists bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, then laid waste to it on Sept. 11, 2001.

The car was parked on one of the prime blocks for Broadway shows, with seven theaters housing such big shows as “The Lion King” and “Billy Elliot.” The curtain at “God of Carnage” and “Red” opened a half-hour later than usual, but the shows were not canceled, said spokesman Adrian Bryan-Brown.

Bloomberg left early from the White House correspondent’s dinner Saturday night. President Barack Obama, who attended the annual gala, praised the quick response by the New York Police Department, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said.

Times Square is void of pedestrians just south of 46th Street on Saturday, May 1, 2010. Police have closed some streets in Times Square as they investigate a car that has been "deemed suspicious." Photo: Craig Ruttle / AP

The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York responded along with the NYPD, said agent Richard Kolko.

Top federal law enforcement and intelligence officials – Obama’s national security adviser James Jones, national intelligence director Dennis Blair, CIA chief Leon Panetta, Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder – planned to participate in a meeting later Sunday on the bomb.

The latest terror threat in New York came last fall when air shuttle driver Najibullah Zazi admitted to a foiled homemade bomb plot aimed at the city subway system.

The theater district in London was the target of a propane bomb attack in 2007. No one was injured when police discovered two Mercedes loaded with nails packed around canisters of propane and gasoline.

Officials said the device found Saturday was crudely constructed, but Islamic militants have used propane and compressed gas for years to enhance the force of explosives. Those instances include the 1983 suicide attack on the U.S. Marines barracks at the Beirut airport that killed 241 U.S. service members, and the 2007 attack on the international airport in Glasgow, Scotland.

In last December, a parked van without license plates led police to block off part of the area for about two hours. A police robot examined the vehicle, and clothes, racks and scarves were found inside. And in March 2008, a hooded bicyclist hurled an explosive device at a military recruiting center, producing a flash, smoke and full-scale emergency response. However, no suspect was ever identified. [CBS News, Daily Mail (UK)]

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