Square car bomb was more serious, and less amaterish, than had seemed from earlier reports.
NEW YORK—Times Square returned to normal Sunday while authorities investigated a makeshift car bomb that Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said could have caused a “significant fireball” and many casualties if it had exploded in the city’s crowded theater district.
Kelly said no evidence existed to back up a claim of responsibility by Pakistani Taliban but stressed police were pursuing all angles. He said police are examining propane tanks, fireworks and other materials collected from the Nissan Pathfinder that began emitting smoke. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said a T-shirt vendor first alerted police Saturday.
Kelly said agents were headed to Pennsylvania to interview a tourist who may have recorded a suspect on his video camera. Kelly said a white man in his 40s was seen in an alley behaving furtively, shedding a dark shirt and putting it in a bag. Police were reviewing Times Square surveillance tapes.
The FBI and other federal authorities are working with New York police, and President Obama said officials would take the steps necessary “to determine who’s behind this potentially deadly act.”
We’re taking this very seriously,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on CNN’s State of the Union. “We are treating it as if it could be a potential terrorist attack.”
Meanwhile, a humid Times Square got back to its T-shirt-selling, tourist-strolling, Broadway ticket-hawking, seen-it-all routine after several blocks were evacuated Saturday night.
“If it wasn’t for all the TV cameras, it would be just another day in Times Square,” said Duane Jackson, a handbag vendor who said he was one of the first to summon police to the suspicious vehicle on West 45th Street. Jackson, 58, said he was working his usual spot about 20 feet away when he suddenly realized “the car was smoking.”
“I looked in the car, and I noticed the keys were inside,” Jackson said. “The cops asked whose car it was, and I said I didn’t know. Then I heard some loud pops that sounded like fireworks going off.”
The location is near the entrance to the headquarters of Viacom, corporate owner of Comedy Central’s South Park cartoon, which some Muslims have criticized for its satiric depiction of the Islamic prophet Mohammed in a bear suit. Asked about a link to South Park, Kelly said, “We certainly wouldn’t rule it out.”
Kelly said the crude materials found in the back of the SUV, including clocks, wires and propane typically used for barbecues, could have been obtained locally. He described the device as unsophisticated but clearly intended to cause “mayhem.” “We are very lucky, thanks to alert New Yorkers and professional police officers, we avoided what could have been a very deadly event,” Bloomberg said.