New York: Police tipped off by a street vendor found and defused a car bomb inside a sport utility vehicle, thwarting an “act of terrorism” that forced the evacuation of New York’s Times Square on Saturday and could have killed many people, authorities said early on Sunday.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a news conference that “we have no idea who did this or why.” He said the failed bomb — of propane, gasoline and fireworks -- appeared to have been made in an amateurish manner.
Times Square is a popular tourist destination in Manhattan’s Midtown, and was packed with tourists and theater-goers on a busy and warm Saturday night.
“Luckily, no one is hurt, and now the full attention of city, state and federal law enforcement will be turned to bringing the guilty party to justice in this act of terrorism,” New York governor David Paterson said in a statement.
Bloomberg said a T-shirt vendor noticed “an unoccupied suspicious vehicle” and alerted a police officer on horseback, who saw that the dark-green Nissan Pathfinder had smoke coming from vents near the back seat and smelled of gun powder.
“The NYPD bomb squad has rendered safe an improvised car bomb,” said New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
“We are very lucky. Thanks to alert New Yorkers and professional police officers, we avoided what could have been a very deadly event,” Bloomberg told reporters.
US President Barack Obama commended the “quick action” by New York police in dealing with the incident and said they had done “excellent work” in responding.
The bomb was discovered at around 6:30 p.m. (2230 GMT) in the vehicle parked on 45th street and Broadway with its engine running and hazard lights flashing, officials said. It had Connecticut license plates that did not match the vehicle.
Kelly said the bomb squad had removed and dismantled three propane tanks, consumer grade fireworks, two filled five gallon (19 liter) gasoline containers, two clocks, batteries in each of the clocks, electrical wire and other components.
A locked metal box resembling a gun locker had also been removed and taken to a safe location to be detonated, he said.
“This wasn’t make believe. This wasn’t a false alarm. This was the real deal -- to hurt people,” said Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano, adding that the force of the bomb had it gone off could have taken down the front of a building.
Bloomberg said police patrols of the rest of New York City had not found anything suspicious.
Vehicle seen on police cameras
New York has remained on high alert for another attack since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in which hijacked airliners toppled the World Trade Center’s twin towers.
Last year police said they thwarted a plot to bomb the New York subway system. Two men have pleaded guilty in the case.
Kelly said the vehicle had tinted windows and was seen on police surveillance cameras traveling west along 45th street and that police were now attempting to examine footage from other cameras in the area.
Bloomberg said authorities had spoken to the man who owned the vehicle’s license plates. The man said the plates belonged to a truck that he had sent to a junk yard and Bloomberg said police were now attempting to speak to the junk yard owner.
In Washington, FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said the Joint Terrorism Task Force has responded along with the NYPD.
A US official, who asked not to be identified by name, said the US Department of Homeland Security was aware of the situation and was monitoring developments.
Times Square was eerily empty for several blocks on Saturday night, the busiest night of the week on the Great White Way as tourists and theater-goers watched from behind barricades as anti-terrorism units swarmed the scene.
Don Slovin, watching the police through the window of a souvenir shop a block from the SUV, said, “Of course it conjures up memories of 9/11.”
The SUV was parked very close to a production of the show “The Lion King.” Women in evening gowns were among the crowd on one of the warmest nights of the year and the busiest night of the week for Broadway theaters.
“It’s New York. If you’re from New York you just get used to it,” said Creswell Rudolph, 37, a bank security guard working a block from the scene. “It could have been a lot worse.”
“With this, it’s just lucky they found it in time. Thank God for that,” he said.
Vehicle and pedestrian traffic was very heavy on streets outside the evacuation zone, including Sixth and Eighth Avenues. All intersections in the area were blocked by police and fire department vehicles, lights flashing.
Police allowed some people to enter theaters to view Broadway shows in the vicinity but later blocked other theatergoers from entering. Some hotel guests were allowed back to their rooms. Some Broadway shows were allowed to go on.
Police shut down Times Square from 43rd street to 48th street between Sixth and Eight avenues. Bloomberg said authorities hoped to reopen the area shortly.
Richard Cassady, 36, an investment banker visiting from England for a bachelor party, said, “It’s six hours later and the central part of New York is still closed down. It’s maybe a little over-dramatized. New York lived through 11 September but it’s incredible the whole place has been stopped for six hours.”