- The Washington Times - Monday, May 3, 2010

NEW YORK | Police investigating a terrorist attack that could have set off a deadly fireball in Times Square focused Sunday on finding a man who was videotaped shedding his shirt near the SUV where the bomb was found.

Police said the gasoline-and-propane bomb was crude but could have sprayed shrapnel and metal parts with enough force to kill pedestrians and knock out windows on one of America’s busiest streets, with full Broadway theaters and restaurants on Saturday nights.

A large amount of fertilizer rigged with wires and fireworks was found with the bomb, but police said it was not the ammonium nitrate grade that can explode.

The surveillance video shows an unidentified white man in his 40s slipping down an alley and taking off a shirt, revealing another underneath. In the same clip, he’s seen looking back in the direction of the smoking vehicle and furtively putting the first shirt in a bag, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

The homemade bomb was made largely with ordinary items, including three barbecue-grill-size propane tanks, two 5-gallon gasoline containers, store-bought fireworks and cheap alarm clocks attached to wires.

“The intent of whoever did this to cause mayhem, create casualties,” Commissioner Kelly said.

Authorities didn’t know how deadly the bomb could have been, how it failed or who was responsible.

Police had already identified the registered owner of the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder — which didn’t have an easily visible vehicle identification number and had license plates from another car — and were looking to interview him. Police also were searching more video, believed to be in the possession of a Pennsylvania tourist, of the man in the alley.

The bomb at Times Square, one of the flashiest and best-known places on Earth, was found at the height of dinner hour before theatergoers headed to Saturday night shows.

Timers were connected to a 16-ounce can filled with fireworks, which were apparently intended to set the gas cans and propane afire, Commissioner Kelly said.

He said the bomb “looks like it would have caused a significant fireball” had it fully detonated. He said the vehicle would have been “cut in half” by an explosion and people nearby could have been sprayed by shrapnel and killed.

Police had feared that another component — a metal rifle cabinet packed with a fertilizerlike substance and rigged with wires and more fireworks — could have made the device even more devastating.

Test results late Sunday showed that it was indeed fertilizer — but the New York Police Department’s bomb experts believe it was not a type volatile enough to explode like the ammonium nitrate grade fertilizer used in previous terror attacks, said police spokesman Paul Browne.

The exact amount of fertilizer was unknown. Police estimated the cabinet — with a manufacturer-listed weight of 78 pounds — weighed 200 to 250 pounds when they pulled it from the vehicle.

A Pakistani Taliban group took responsibility for the failed attack in a 1-minute video.

Commissioner Kelly, however, said police have no evidence to support the claim, and noted that the same group had falsely taken credit for previous attacks on U.S. soil. The commissioner also cast doubt on e-mail to a news outlet claiming responsibility.

“There is no evidence that this is tied in with Al Qaeda or any other big terrorist organization,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Sunday evening.

The NYPD and FBI were also examining “hundreds of hours” of security videotape from around Times Square, Commissioner Kelly said.

New York’s busiest streets, choked with taxis and people on one of the first summerlike days of the year, were shut down for 10 hours, unnerving thousands of tourists attending Broadway shows, museums and other city sights. Detectives took the stage at the end of some of shows to announce to theatergoers that they were looking for witnesses in a bombing attempt.

“No more New York,” said Crysta Salinas, a 28-year-old Houston woman who was stuck waiting in a deli until 2 a.m.

Duane Jackson, a 58-year-old handbag vendor from Buchanan, N.Y., said he noticed the car and wondered who had left it there.

“That was my first thought: Who sat this car here?” Mr. Jackson said Sunday. Mr. Jackson said he looked in the car and saw keys in the ignition with 19 or 20 keys on a ring. He said he alerted a passing mounted police officer.

They were looking in the car “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,” he said.

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


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