- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The White House called the car bomb found in New York City over the weekend an act of terrorism for the first time Monday as investigators zeroed in on two people who were seen on security cameras near the explosives-laden sport utility vehicle, though law enforcement officials said they were not suspects.

U.S Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told reporters that authorities “have some good leads” into the incident, in which a Nissan Pathfinder packed with fireworks, gasoline and propane was spotted in the city’s bustling Times Square with keys in the ignition.

He and other government officials publicly said it was too early to determine whether terrorist organizations were involved, but speculation mounted throughout the day after a Taliban affiliate claimed responsibility for the botched attack and The Washington Post quoted anonymous administration sources who said preliminary investigations suggest a global plot.

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Meanwhile, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said police are looking for a man seen changing his shirt near the SUV and another person who was spotted running down Broadway. Commissioner Kelly, in an appearance on CNN’s “American Morning,” also said authorities had interviewed the registered owner of the Pathfinder, but added that he was not a suspect and that his car had not been reported stolen.

With the investigation still in its early phase, information was flowing in from all areas.

Reports surfaced late Monday of a manhunt for a missing Connecticut man who is said to have bought the vehicle on Craigslist two weeks ago for more than $1,000 in cash. The New York Daily News said the man has not been seen by his girlfriend or shown up at his home or job since the car was found Saturday night. According to CBS News, the car’s vehicle identification number had been removed from the dashboard and its license plates came from a Connecticut repair shop.

Asked whether he would describe the incident as an act of terrorism, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Monday, “I think anybody that has the type of material that they had in a car in Times Square, I would say that that was intended to terrorize, absolutely. And I would say that whoever did that would be categorized as a terrorist, yes.”

But government officials were cautious about how far to draw the connection. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano earlier Monday shied away from characterizing the bomb as the result of a global terrorism plot.

“I caution that the last thing we want to do is to draw premature conclusions, which may actually obscure the actual lead that we need to be following. So all leads need to be followed,” she said on “American Morning.”

The senior Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Peter T. King of New York, said there doesn’t appear to be a foreign link.

“There was no intelligence chatter before; there’s been no conversation since indicating that this was coordinated from overseas. That doesn’t mean that it’s not al Qaeda-affiliated here. So I think everything has to be left on the table, but as far as the foreign connection, there does not appear to be one right now,” he said in an interview on “Fox and Friends.”

Authorities said there is no evidence to support a claim by the Pakistani Taliban that it was responsible for the incident, which an Internet video described as retaliation for a U.S. drone attack that killed its leader.

The bomb found in the SUV Saturday night has been described as an amateurish device, containing M-88 firecrackers, cans filled with gasoline, propane tanks and a type of fertilizer that authorities say is not explosive. But had it blown up, the car could have produced mass casualties, officials said.

Police are sifting through footage from 82 security cameras in the Broadway area that may provide further clues for the investigation.

Duane Jackson, a street vendor who spotted smoke coming out of the vehicle and alerted police, told the news media Monday that he received a call from President Obama thanking him for his vigilance. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg hosted the police officer who responded and his wife for dinner.

The incident is the latest in a string of would-be attacks facing the Obama administration in the past several months. A young Nigerian man with reported ties to al Qaeda in Yemen was arrested and charged with trying to blow himself up aboard a flight to Detroit on Christmas Day. Najibullah Zazi recently pleaded guilty in a September al Qaeda plot to bomb the New York City subway system.

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