Authorities defused a primitive bomb inside a vacant New Jersey pizzeria Monday, foiling what they described as a potentially deadly plot that might have stemmed from a landlord-tenant dispute.
Jersey City Deputy Police Chief Peter Nalbach called the bomb "very rudimentary." It was described as a gas can rigged with a wire that was placed inside the pizzeria's front door, possibly intended to detonate when someone opened it.
"If you watched 'MacGyver' as a kid you could probably figure out how to do it," Nalbach said, referring to the 1980s TV show. "But if it had gone off, there would have been major destruction."
A bomb squad member was seen removing a clear container holding an amber-colored liquid from Willy Joes's pizzeria. Police Chief Thomas Comey said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives was examining the container's contents.
Nalbach said police were focusing on a man who once rented the pizzeria and had a legal dispute with the building's owner.
Police Lt. Edgar Martinez said an arrest in the case was expected to come late Monday, though he would not say who would be arrested. Earlier, Comey said investigators were interviewing two suspects.
Property records name Milan Bolich as the building's owner. A telephone listing for Bolich could not be found.
There was no evidence that the incident had terrorist undertones, Comey said.
"Let me say emphatically that there is no nexus to any terrorist group or organization," he said. "This appears to be an isolated incident that stems from this one location."
The pizzeria sits on a block of attached homes and businesses across from a park that features a panoramic view of Manhattan's skyline. Police evacuated buildings along the block and closed the street for several hours. By noon, traffic was allowed through and residents were back in their homes.
Police and firefighters responded to the building for a report of a gas leak at about 5:30 a.m. They found the would-be bomb after entering the building through a back door, police said.
Sonia Roman, whose ground-floor apartment opens onto a side street around the corner from the pizzeria, said she smelled a strong gas odor when she went out to get her newspaper and immediately called 911.
"It was a foul odor, it was nasty," she said. "My alarm was going off and I wasn't even cooking, so that got me thinking. I just did what anybody would do. They got here very quickly."
Roman said she walked around the corner and saw a wire sticking out from under the front door of the pizzeria.
Comey said the building's owner and the tenant who ran the pizzeria had an ongoing dispute over several weeks that had spilled into court. In fact, he said, they were due in court Monday. The dispute may have been exacerbated when the pizza-making equipment was removed from the shop last week, though it was not clear who owned the equipment or whether it was removed illegally.
"They had been at each other for months, in and out of court and on the street," said one neighbor. "I never saw anything physical, but they were in each other's face."
Alberto Gonzalez, a neighbor who said he worked at the pizzeria, said he helped his boss move the pizza-making equipment out of the store.