Manhattan, NY – There was no evidence of a Taliban link to a failed bomb found in a smoking SUV parked in Times Square, and police were on their way to Pennsylvania to talk to a man who said he may have recorded a bombing suspect in a nearby alley, the police commissioner said Sunday.
The video apparently shows a white man in his 40s taking off his shirt in the alley and putting it in a bag, Commissioner Ray Kelly said.
Police found the SUV parked on one of the prime blocks for Broadway shows such as “The Lion King” after being alerted by two street vendors on Saturday night. Thousands of tourists were cleared from the streets for 10 hours, and the bomb was dismantled. No one was injured.
The SUV contained three propane tanks, fireworks, two filled 5-gallon gasoline containers and two clocks with batteries, electrical wire and other components, police said. Timers were connected to a 16-ounce can filled with fireworks that were apparently intended to set the gas cans afire, then ignite the three barbecue-grill-sized propane tanks.
Kelly said it was “the intent of whoever did this to cause mayhem, create casualties.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the explosive device “amateurish” but potentially deadly, noting: “We are very lucky.”
“We avoided what could have been a very deadly event,” Bloomberg said. “It certainly could have exploded and had a pretty big fire and a decent amount of explosive impact.”
Police also found eight bags of an unknown substance in a gun locker that was in the smoking SUV, Kelly said. The substance “looks and feels” like fertilizer, he said, but tests were pending.
A group that monitors militant websites had said the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.
A T-shirt vendor and a handbag vendor alerted police at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday, the height of dinner hour before theatergoers head to Saturday night shows.
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?” Jackson said Sunday.
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?” Jackson said. “I’m less than 8 feet away from the car. We dodged a bullet here.”
Connecticut license plates on the vehicle did not match up, and police had interviewed the Connecticut car owner, who told them he had sent the plates to a nearby junkyard, Bloomberg said.
Heavily armed police and emergency vehicles shut down the city’s busiest streets, choked with taxis and people on one of the first summer-like days of the year. Times Square lies about four traffic-choked miles north of where terrorists bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, then laid waste to it on Sept. 11, 2001.