UPDATE: NYC Mayor: We'll Find Who's Behind Car Bomb

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Times Square Car Bomb

NEW YORK – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says there’s a “high probability” that law enforcement will capture whoever was behind a car bomb left in Times Square.

Bloomberg said Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that all city agencies are working together, along with federal agencies.

Police found the car Saturday night parked on a block lined with Broadway theaters and restaurants after being alerted by two street vendors. Thousands of tourists were cleared from the area, and streets were shut down for 10 hours.

Police say the gasoline and propane bomb was crude but could have sprayed shrapnel and metal parts with enough force to kill pedestrians and knock out windows on one of America’s busiest streets.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

NEW YORK (AP) — The car bomb was a crude concoction of ordinary items — fireworks, fuel and fertilizer — that authorities suspect was meant to cause maximum mayhem in the heart of Times Square.

In the end, the device fizzled and the city and its residents counted themselves lucky once again: lucky that a vendor saw smoke creeping out of the car parked in one of the busiest streets in America; lucky that authorities responded quickly; and lucky that the would-be terrorists were clumsy enough to assemble a bomb that wasn’t capable of exploding.

But it was enough to fray nerves and set off a frenzied probe in what New York Police Department officialscalled the most serious car bomb plot in the city since the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, in which six people were killed and more than 1,000 injured.

“Clearly it was the intent of whoever did this to cause mayhem, to create casualties,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

The hunt was on Monday for a middle-aged man who was videotaped shedding his shirt near the sport utility vehicle where the bomb was found. Authorities also wanted to talk to the owner of the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder.

The gasoline-and-propane bomb could have cut the SUV in half, produced “a significant fireball” and sprayed shrapnel and metal parts with enough force to kill pedestrians and knock out windows on one of America’s busiest streets, lined with Broadway theaters and restaurants and full of people out on a Saturday night, Kelly said.

The Pakistani Taliban appeared to claim responsibility for the car bomb in three videos that surfaced after the weekend scare, monitoring groups said. Kelly said police have no evidence to support the claims and noted that the same group had falsely taken credit for previous attacks on U.S. soil.

Despite the attempt to instill fear, Times Square sprung back to life.

“This is America. This is what we do,” said Earl Morriss of Seattle, who was sightseeing. “Nobody is going to stop us from living our lives and doing what we want to do.”

The New York surveillance video, made public late Sunday, shows an unidentified white man apparently in his 40s slipping down an alley and taking off his shirt, revealing another underneath. In the same clip, he’s seen looking back in the direction of the smoking vehicle and furtively putting the first shirt in a bag. Police hoped to interview the tourist who took the video.

The NYPD and FBI also were examining “hundreds of hours” of security videotape from around Times Square, Kelly said.

Police had identified the registered owner of the dark-colored Pathfinder and were looking to interview him. The vehicle didn’t have an easily visible vehicle identification number and had license plates that came from a car found in a repair shop in Connecticut.

Police released a photograph of the SUV as it crossed an intersection at 6:28 p.m. Saturday. A vendor pointed out the SUV to an officer about two minutes later.

The explosive device in the SUV had cheap-looking alarm clocks connected to a 16-ounce can filled with fireworks, which were apparently intended to detonate the gas cans and set the propane afire in a chain reaction, Kelly said.

Investigators had feared that a final component placed in the cargo area — a metal rifle cabinet packed a fertilizer-like substance and rigged with wires and more fireworks — could have made the device even more devastating. Test results late Sunday showed it was indeed fertilizer, but NYPD bomb experts believe it was not a type volatile enough to explode like the ammonium nitrate grade fertilizer used in previous terror attacks, said police spokesman Paul Browne.

The exact amount of fertilizer was unknown. Police estimated the cabinet weighed 200 to 250 pounds when they pulled it from the vehicle.

Times Square, choked with taxis and people on one of the first summer-like days of the year, was shut down for 10 hours. Detectives took the stage at the end of some of Broadway shows to announce to theatergoers that they were looking for witnesses in a bombing attempt.

“No more New York,” said Crysta Salinas. The 28-year-old Houston woman was stuck waiting in a deli until 2 a.m. because part of a Marriott hotel was evacuated because of the bomb.

Updated 05.02.10 @ 12:41 p.m. – Car Bomb Found In Times Square

NEW YORK – Police found an “amateurish” but potentially powerful bomb that apparently began to detonate but did not explode in a smoking sport utility vehicle in Times Square, authorities said Sunday.

Thousands of tourists were cleared from the streets for 10 hours after two vendors alerted police to the suspicious vehicle, which contained three propane tanks, fireworks, two filled 5-gallon gasoline containers, and two clocks with batteries, electrical wire and other components, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

“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.”

The bomb appeared to be starting to detonate but malfunctioned, top police spokesman Paul Browne said Sunday. Firefighters and witnesses said they heard a popping sound from inside the vehicle.

Bloomberg called the explosive device “amateurish” but potentially deadly, noting: “We are very lucky.”

The NYPD bomb squad “has seen sophisticated devices before and they described this one as crude,” Browne said. “But it was nevertheless lethal.” If detonated properly, it could have created a large fireball and sprayed shrapnel — metal from the propane tanks and car parts — that could have killed pedestrians in the immediate vicinity, Browne said.

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

No suspects were in custody, though Kelly said a surveillance video showed the car driving west on 45th Street before it parked between Seventh and Eighth avenues. Police were looking for more video from office buildings that weren’t open at the time.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that officials are treating the incident as a potential terrorist attack. The mayor said earlier Sunday that “we have no idea who did this or why” but said pointed out that the city is a frequent target of terrorism.

“These things invariably … come back to New York,” Bloomberg said.

A T-shirt vendor and a handbag vendor alerted police at about 6:30 p.m, the height of dinner hour before theatergoers head to Saturday night shows.

Smoke was coming from the back of the dark-colored Pathfinder, its hazard lights were on and “it was just sitting there,” said Rallis Gialaboukis, 37, another vendor who has hawked his wares for 20 years across the street.

Duane Jackson, a 58-year-old handbag vendor from Buchanan, N.Y., said he noticed the car at around 6:30 p.m. 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.

“That’s 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.”

He didn’t think the car had been there for more than 10 or 15 minutes.

A white robotic police arm broke windows of the SUV to remove any explosive materials. A Connecticut license plate on the vehicle did not match up, Bloomberg said. Police interviewed the Connecticut car owner, who told them he had sent the plates to a nearby junkyard, Bloomberg said.

The SUV was towed early Sunday to a forensic lab in Queens, where it was being “thoroughly checked for prints, hairs and fibers,” Browne said Sunday. Napolitano said fingerprints had been recovered from the vehicle.

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