Sunday, May 2, 2010

Video May Hold Clues in Times Square Bomb Scare

Michelle Ruiz

Michelle Ruiz Contributor

(May 2) -- New York law enforcement officials are analyzing surveillance videos in an attempt to determine who is responsible for the crude car bomb left in Times Square Saturday night, forcing the evacuation of thousands milling in the city's bustling tourist hub.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the failed bomb attempt on an Islamist Web site, saying it was avenging the deaths of two leaders, "al-Baghdadi and al-Mahajer and Muslim martyrs."

A CBS News report citing Pakistani intelligence officials downplayed the statement.

"There is no credible way to prove that the Taliban have this kind of capacity to attempt such an attack in the heart of the United States," a Pakistani intelligence told CBS News on condition of anonymity.

No suspects were in custody in the wake of the incident, but Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the federal government has pledged its assistance to New York in what it perceives to be an act of attempted terrorism.

No suspects were in custody in the wake of the incident, but Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the federal government has pledged its assistance to New York in what it perceives to be an act of attempted terrorism.

"We're taking this very seriously," Napolitano told CNN's "State of the Union." "We're treating it as if it could be a potential terrorist attack."

In appearances on Sunday morning political talk shows, Napolitano said officials recovered forensic evidence, including fingerprints, from the green Nissan sport utility vehicle found packed with three propane tanks, fireworks, two 5-gallon containers of gasoline, two clocks with batteries and electrical wire.

A T-shirt vendor named Lance Orton alerted police to the smoking vehicle parked with its engine running on 45th street in the heart of Times Square at approximately 6:30pm, according to the New York Times. After a mounted officer smelled gun powder on the car, a cluster of patrolling officers began evacuating the city's busy theater district as police and bomb squad members arrived on the scene.

At a 2 a.m. news conference in Times Square, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly called the bomb "amateurish" but potentially dangerous.
Car bomb found in Times Square
Seth Wenig, AP
T-shirt vendor Duane Jackson was one of the first people to alert police to the suspicious vehicle.

"We avoided what could have been a very deadly event," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "It certainly could have exploded and had a pretty big fire and a decent amount of explosive impact."

Police said the bomb had begun detonating but malfunctioned.

"I think the intent was to cause a significant ball of fire," Kelly said.

Police spokesman Paul Browne said the S.U.V was being "thoroughly checked for prints, hairs and fibers" as investigators attempt to gather additional surveillance footage from businesses who were closed Saturday night. Kelly said there was video showing the S.U.V driving west on 45th street before parking between 7th and 8th avenues. Because of the vehicle's tinted windows, Kelly said it could be difficult to identify a driver or any passengers.

"We have no idea who did this or why," Bloomberg said, adding that based on current video surveillance, authorities "couldn't detect who was in the vehicle, how many were in the vehicle and what was in the vehicle."

CBS News quoted an anonymous law enforcement source as saying there is video showing someone exiting the vehicle left near the Broadway theater that houses Disney's "The Lion King." Officials said they had no reports of anyone seen running from the vehicle, according to The Associated Press.

"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," Gov. Paterson said in a statement.

Napolitano told ABC News' Jake Tapper that there is no evidence that the crude bomb attempt was part of a larger plot, saying it does not appear to be "anything other than a one-off" attempt.

Orton, a Vietnam veteran and longtime Times Square t-shirt vendor, is being hailed as a hero for alerting police to the smoking vehicle. After a tip from Orton, Officer Watne Rhatigan approached the S.U.V., later saying he heard a popping sound coming from inside.

"I did a lap around the vehicle. The inside was smoking," Rhatigan told the Daily News. "I smelled gunpowder and knew it might blow. I thought it might blow any second."

The bomb squad disabled the explosives after surveying the interior of the vehicle with the help of a "remote-controlled robot arm." In addition to explosives, they found a "box within a box" in the car, a 2X2X4 black gun locker, according to Kelly.

The bomb scare heightened the usual hubbub of Times Square on Saturday night, with onlookers crowding against police barricades to gawk at the mass of ambulances, fire trucks, police vans and armed officers at the scene. Some Broadway show times were delayed by 30 minutes but were reported to proceed without cancellation.

"It's a whole different kind of show," Tay Heniser, a tourist from Seattle told the Times. "It's almost the equivalent of a $150 show."

Orton was still lingering in Times Square early Sunday morning, brushing off reporters questioning him about the incident.

"See something, say something," he told the Times, quoting a popular Manhattan Transit Authority poster that urges subway riders to report suspicious activity.
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