Firefighters and police shut down part of Times Square after spotting apparent explosive device in car.
Police combed through a charred SUV and a crude assortment of explosives Sunday for clues to a failed Times Square bombing as a monitoring group reported that the Pakistani Taliban had claimed responsibility for the terrorist threat.
At a press conference Sunday afternoon, Kelly, in fact, said that investigators are looking at video footage that appears to show a white male in his 40's suspiciously walking away from the vehicle down Shubert Alley, looking back and changing from a dark colored shirt to a red shirt.
He said that video footage would eventually be released to the press.
"It could be perfectly innocent, but it's something at this juncture that we're looking at," said Kelly.
He also said that "detectives are on route to a town in Pennsylvania where a tourist believes he may have captured the suspect's image on camera."
The Commissioner also requested that any members of the public, who may have seen or photographed the moments when the SUV was parked, come forward by calling 800-577-TIPS.
These statements came after an intelligence monitoring group released a one-minute video allegedly from the Pakistani Taliban, in which it claimed responsibility for the failed bombing in a smoking SUV left parked in the city on Saturday night, clearing thousands of tourists and theatergoers from the city's busiest district.
The U.S.-based SITE intelligence group, which monitors militant websites, said the Pakistani Taliban claims the attack is revenge for the death of its leader Baitullah Mehsud and the recent killings of the top leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Images of the slain militants are shown as an unidentified voice recites the message. English subtitles are at the bottom of the screen.
But Kelly pointed out that the same group in the past has claimed responsibility for attacks that it was proven to have nothing to do with.
The SUV contained three barbecue-grill-sized propane tanks, fireworks, two filled 5-gallon gasoline containers and two clocks with batteries, electrical wire and other components, police said. Timers were connected to a 16-ounce can filled with the fireworks, which were apparently intended to set the gas cans and propane afire, Kelly said.
Investigators were examining the SUV at a forensic lab for fingerprints and DNA evidence and had isolated a 200-pound gun locker, also found in the vehicle, at a police firing rang in the Bronx.
Kelly said that locker contained eight bags of a granular substance, which may be fertilizer, as well as wires and M-88 firecrackers, as well as other materials.
"Clearly it was the intent of whoever did this to cause mayhem, to create casualties," said Kelly. "It's a sober reminder that New York is clearly a target of people who want to come here and do us harm. We are lucky that it didn't detonate."
Some sources had speculated that Comedy Central's parent company Viacom, which is headquartered at 1515 Broadway, near where the car was parked, was the target, because of a recent South Park episode offensive to fundamentalist Muslims. Kelly said investigators so far "couldn't rule out" that theory.
The bomb, which partly detonated but malfunctioned, could have sprayed shrapnel that killed pedestrians in the immediate vicinity, top NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.
"We avoided what could have been a very deadly event," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "It certainly could have exploded and had a pretty big fire and a decent amount of explosive impact."
Bloomberg called the explosive device "amateurish" but potentially deadly, noting: "We are very lucky."
President Barack Obama, speaking in Louisiana as he addressed the massive oil spill that has threatened those shores, said he called Mayor Bloomberg to express his support.
"I want to commend the work of the NYPD, the New York Fire Department and the FBI which responded swiftly and aggressively to a dangerous situation," said Obama. "And I also want to commend the vigilant citizens who noticed the suspicious activity and reported it to the authorities."
An alert T-shirt vendor spotted the suspicious vehicle, which had white smoke billowing from it and smelled of gunpowder, and notified a member of the NYPD mounted patrol at about 6:30 this evening, Bloomberg said at a press conference shortly after 2:15 am.
An NYPD robot arm broke windows of the dark green Nissan Pathfinder to check for explosive materials while heavily armed police and emergency vehicles shut down Times Square, teeming with taxis and theatergoers.
"We have no idea who did this and why," said a tuxedo-clad Bloomberg who rushed to scene, along with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, from Washington DC where they attended the annual Washington Correspondents Dinner.
Kelly says the car contained three propane tanks, consumer-grade fireworks, two filled 5-gallon gasoline containers, and two clocks with batteries, electrical wire and other components. He says a black metal box resembling a gun locker or rifle case was also recovered. The mayor said authorities were reviewing security videotapes.
At midday Sunday the NYPD bomb squad continued to examine the gun box that is 55 inches high, 21 inches wide and 16 inches deep that was recovered from the vehicle, sources said. Bomb techs are treating it carefully in case there is something inside, said police spokesman Paul Browne. They are still working still to open it.
Firefighters who arrived shortly after the first call heard a popping sound, said Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano, who described the sound as not quite an explosion.
"I think the intent was to cause a significant ball of fire," Kelly said.
At a press conference Sunday afternoon Sen. Chuck Schumer said investigators told him "the bomb itself was intended to be a fire bomb, to set a nearby building of theater on fire."
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" but said it's not surprising the city is a frequent target of terrorism.
Napolitano says that while investigators have no suspects, they have recovered forensic evidence, including fingerprints from the vehicle.
Officials also said they had a VIN number from the SUV.
Sources said the license plate on the Pathfinder traces back to a Ford, not a Nissan. The mayor said the police contacted the person who last legally had the Connecticut license plates, That person said the Connecticut plates were last legally used in car that was junked, Bloomberg said.
The car was suspicious in more ways than one: It was not parked right at the curb, the flashers were going and there was a "light smoking haze" in the passenger compartment.
The car was parked in front of the Minskoff Theatre, where the popular "Lion King" was showing. Neither last night's nor today's matinee performances were canceled, according to Disney spokeswoman Adriana Douzos. Theater-goers who were unable to get to the show because of police activity can get refunds or exchanges, she said.
A street vendor who was one of the first people to notice the smoking said he feels he got lucky.
Duane Jackson he noted saw the Nissan Pathfinder parked in a no-standing zone at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday, with the engine running and the key in the ignition, and wondered "what kind of knucklehead parked in the bus turning lane."
The 58-year-old Jackson says he and another vendor who sells trinkets next to him outside a hotel went to peer inside the tinted windows, then smelled smoke and heard a "pop pop pop" like firecrackers.
Jackson says he first thought the car might have been on fire. Once he learned that a bomb had been discovered, he says he realized he and other vendors "dodged a bullet."
Jackson and other vendors notified Mounted Police Officer Wayne Ratigan, who cleared the area and was hailed a a hero Sunday night at a dinner with Mayor Bloomberg at Blue Fin restaurant in, appropriately, Times Square.
"We're not going to let them [terrorists] win, and you see here a perfect example," said Bloomberg. "My message is, you gotta leave it to the profesionals, and Officer Ratigan is a professional -- he's part of the best police department in the world."
Ratigan's actions, to get people away from the car and notify the bomb squad immediately may have saved dozens of lives.
The NYPD bomb squad "has seen sophisticated devices before and they described this one as crude," Browne said. "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 said.
Thousands of tourists were cleared 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, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
No suspects were in custody. Police were going through surveillance video that 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.
A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity with the probe in its initial stage, said investigators have the vehicle identification number enabling them to trace the ownership of the SUV. It is a 1990s vehicle whose ownership history involves other regions of the country and not New York, said the official, who declined to say which regions.
Connecticut license plates on the vehicle did not match up, and police had interviewed the Connecticut car owner, who told them he had sent the plates to a nearby junkyard, Bloomberg said.
Heavily armed police and emergency vehicles shut down the city's busiest streets, choked with taxis and people on one of the first summer-like days of the year. 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.
Part of a Marriott hotel was evacuated for hours, unnerving thousands of tourists attending Broadway show, museums and other city sights.
Melissa Williams and Crysta Salinas returned from a visit to a King Tut exhibit near Times Square to find themselves out of their hotel room until 2 a.m. They sat in a deli until they could get into their room.
"No more New York," said Salinas, 28, from Houston.
"We went to two Broadway shows, we went to the museum, we did everything we wanted to do this time, so we're not going to do this again," said Williams, 56, from Houston.
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 2007, the U.S. military announced that an al-Qaeda front group was using propane to rig car bombs in Iraq.