NEW YORK — Police investigating a failed car bomb left in Times Square — a major tourist destination — have videotape of a possible suspect shedding clothing in an alley and putting it in a bag and found a substance that resembled fertilizer in the parked sports utility vehicle, Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Sunday.
The surveillance video shows a white man in his 40s taking off one shirt, revealing another underneath.
Kelly said officers were on their way to a Pennsylvania town to talk to a tourist who also might have recorded the suspect on his video camera.
The commissioner said there’s no evidence that a Pakistani Taliban videotaped claim to the failed car bombing is valid.
Police found the SUV parked on one of the prime blocks for Broadway shows such as “The Lion King” on Saturday night. Thousands of tourists were cleared from the area for 10 hours. The bomb was dismantled, and no one was hurt. Police say the bomb contained fertilizer that was incapable of exploding.
The SUV contained three barbecue-grill-sized propane tanks, fireworks, two filled 5-gallon (19 -litre) gasoline containers and two clocks with batteries, electrical wire and other components, police said. Timers were connected to a 16-ounce (350 millilitre) can filled with the fireworks, which were apparently intended to set the gas cans and propane afire, Kelly said.
“Clearly it was the intent of whoever did this to cause mayhem, to create casualties,” Kelly said at a news conference at police headquarters. “It’s just a sober reminder that New York is clearly a target of people who want to come here and do us harm.”
He said New Yorkers are lucky that the bomb did not fully detonate because it “looks like it would have caused a significant fireball.” He said the vehicle, which had Connecticut license plates that didn’t match it, would have been “cut in half” by an explosion and people nearby could have been sprayed by shrapnel and killed.
“It wasn’t an accident,” he said. “It was somebody who brought this to the location to send a message to terrorize people in the area.”
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.
Kelly said surveillance video shows the vehicle entering the area at 6:28 p.m. (2228 GMT) Saturday, and a vendor pointed the SUV out to an officer about two minutes later, at the height of dinner hour before theatergoers head to Saturday night shows. He said the license plates on the SUV belong to a car that is being repaired in Connecticut.
Duane Jackson, a 58-year-old handbag vendor, 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 (2.5 metres) away from the car. We dodged a bullet here.”
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.