Hunt on for culprits in failed New York car bomb

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Investigators are treating a  car bomb defused in New York’s Times Square as an attempted  terrorist attack but have no evidence to support a Taliban  claim of responsibility, police said yesterday.

Police are poring over surveillance camera footage and a  device made of propane, gasoline and fireworks after officers,  alerted by a street vendor, found the bomb in a vehicle on  Saturday evening as Times Square was packed with tourists and  theatre-goers.

US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called  the scare a “potential terrorist attack” but she and other  officials held off saying whether there was a link to Islamist  groups or to a domestic cause in the United States.  A US intelligence official told Reuters “we just don’t  know at this point who may be behind this event.”

“Either way we should know more soon,” said Paul Rogers, a  terrorism expert at Britain’s Bradford University. “Because the  explosives didn’t go off, the forensics experts have a large  amount of material in the vehicle to work on.”

The Taliban in Pakistan said it planted the bomb to avenge  the killing in April of al Qaeda’s two top leaders in Iraq as  well as US interference in Muslim countries.

But New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said there  was “no evidence” to support the Taliban’s claim.

“If this had detonated, in my judgment it would have caused  casualties, a significant fireball,” he said. “A terrorist act  doesn’t necessarily have to be conducted by an organization. An  individual can do it on their own.”

Michael Cheah, senior portfolio manager at SunAmerica Asset  Manage-ment, said the car bomb was an “isolated incident” that  was not likely to spark any Treasury market reaction.

New York and its 8 million people have been on high alert  since the Sept 11 attacks in 2001 when airliners hijacked by  al Qaeda militants toppled the World Trade Center’s twin  towers, killing more than 2,600 people.

Last year, police said they thwarted a plot to bomb the New  York subway system. Two men have pleaded guilty in that case.

‘We can’t rule

anything out’

“It’s worth recalling the trend in radicalization in the  USA,” said Henry Wilkinson, senior intelligence analyst at  London-based security company Janusian. “It does not look like  a prototypical al Qaeda attack. But again it’s early days.”  The deadliest home-grown attack in the United States killed  168 people in 1995 when a fuel-and-fertilizer bomb planted in a  truck by Timothy McVeigh and another right-wing extremist  exploded at a federal building in Oklahoma City.

Kelly said a white man in his 40s had been identified in  security footage and was seen removing a dark shirt to reveal a  red shirt about half a block from where the vehicle was left  with its engine running and hazard lights flashing. Kelly said it was not clear whether the footage was related  to the bomb and that another claim of responsibility emailed to  a local news organization was also being investigated.

“We can’t rule anything out at this time,” he said when  asked whether the Viacom Inc office in Times Square was a  possible target after the satirical cartoon ‘South Park’  depicted a controversial image of the Prophet Mohammed.  “South Park” is shown on the Comedy Central network owned  by Viacom.     Times Square was evacuated on Saturday evening but the  entertainment and shopping area in midtown Manhattan largely  reopened yesterday with a heavy police presence. Broadway  officials said all shows did go on, some beginning late.     The bomb squad removed three propane tanks, consumer grade  fireworks, two full five-gallon (19-litre) gasoline cans, two  clocks, electrical wire and other components from the vehicle,  a dark green Nissan Pathfinder.

Yesterday, the bomb squad blew open a gun locker that was  also in the vehicle and found eight bags of an “unknown  substance” with “the look and feel” of fertilizer, Kelly said.

The Connecticut licence plate found on the rear of the  Pathfinder came from another vehicle that was now in an auto  repair shop in Connecticut, Kelly said.
The real deal

“We’re going to do whatever is necessary to protect the  American people, to determine who’s behind this potentially  deadly act and to see that justice is done,” President Barack  Obama told a news conference.

Similarities between the attempted attack in Times Square  and another in London in 2007 included a vehicle abandoned in a  crowded area with the intent of causing mass casualties, said  Sajjan Gohel, director for international security at the  London-based research company Asia Pacific Foundation. “Was this done by an established group or, as in the London  case, by self-radicalized people?” Gohel said.

He also voiced skepticism about the Taliban claim and said  video footage could be the key for investigators.

Napolitano told ABC News there was no evidence the incident  in Times Square was “anything other than a one-off” and that  the bomb “doesn’t look like it is a very sophisticated one.”

New York police said they searched transit hubs, landmarks  and other sensitive areas after the bomb was discovered but did  not find anything suspicious.

“We have no idea who did this or why,” said New York Mayor  Michael Bloomberg. He said a T-shirt vendor noticed “an  unoccupied suspicious vehicle” and alerted a policeman on  horseback, who saw the Pathfinder had smoke coming from vents  near the back seat and smelled of gun powder.

“This wasn’t make believe. This wasn’t a false alarm,” said  New York Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano. “This was the real deal  — to hurt people.”

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