Someone Tried to Set Off a Car Bomb in Times Square (Updated)

Here’s what we know so far about last night’s failed attempt to detonate a car bomb in the heart of Times Square, which resulted in the evacuation of the area and no casualties:

A street vendor noticed a dark green Nissan Pathfinder SUV parked awkwardly on the curb with the motor running at the corner of Broadway and 45th, just outside The Lion King. Security cameras caught it travelling west on Broadway at 6:28pm. The vehicle was reported as suspicious just a few minutes later.

It contained three propane tanks, two red 5-gallon plastic jugs of gasoline, some fireworks and two clocks with batteries. There was also a two-by-two-by-four-foot metal box, described as a “gun locker,” which police removed from the scene. According to police, the device “looked amateurish,” and seemingly malfunctioned in the process of detonating. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said “I think the intent was to cause a significant ball of fire.”

The bomber appears to have been caught midway through trying to detonate the car. Times Square T-shirt vendor and Vietnam veteran Lance Orton (who apparently doesn’t trust the media) noticed smoke emanating from the vehicle, and alerted mounted officer Wayne Rhatigan, who smelled gunpowder and began to clear the area with the help of two other cops.

After evacuation, police and firefighters surrounded the SUV. Several pops were heard from inside, but it failed to detonate. The bomb squad checked out the interior using a remote-controlled robot, then disabled the explosives.

The Daily News says police are investigating reports of a man running away from the SUV; the Times says there were no such reports. Mayor Bloomberg, who rushed back from the White House correspondent’s dinner in Washington, said “We have no idea who did this or why.” Police are reviewing security videotapes. However, the SUV’s windows were tinted, which could make it hard to see anyone inside on the tapes. On “Meet the Press” this morning, Janet Napolitano said the car was being scanned for forensic evidence.

Apparently stolen, the SUV had Connecticut license plates from another car, a Ford F-150. Police interviewed the owner of that car but said he was not a suspect; they’re investigating the junkyard where the Ford was left.

Broadway shows were canceled or delayed. The area between West 43rd to 47th Streets along Broadway and Seventh Avenue was blocked with metal railings last night, and parts of West 48th Street were also closed. Times Square is now reopen.

Everyone agrees the NYPD did a fantastic job.

At least one tourist managed to make light of the situation: “It’s a whole different kind of show,” Tay Heniser of Seattle told the Times, adding, “It’s almost the equivalent of a $150 show.”

Update 1: Britain’s Daily Telegraph, making a connection with Viacom offices near the SUV’s location, speculates that the bombing was reprisal for the recent episode of South Park that featured a censored depiction of Muhammad in a bear suit after death threats. The Telegraph also claims that police are investigating similarities with a 2007 attack in London. (The Times confirms the 2007 lead, saying authorities believed those attacks originated in Iraq.)

Update 2: The Pakistan Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack via a video, calling it revenge for the recent killing of top leaders of the group in Afghanistan. That claim is unconfirmed as yet. [WP]

Update 3: Pakistani intelligence officials have downplayed the Taliban claim, saying that the group has no demonstrated ability to operate abroad; this would be their first attempted strike outside Southeast Asia. [CBS]

Update 4: According to the latest Times update, police and FBI are investigating a 911 call placed around 4 a.m. Sunday morning. The caller — who apparently sounded “intelligent” — said that the car bomb was a diversion and there would be a massive explosion soon. The call came from a payphone on 53rd and Seventh Avenue.

Update 5: The Daily News has also heard from police sources that the South Park connection is under investigation. Charles Schumer also doubts the Taliban claim, saying preliminary signs suggest the attempt was a one-off and not connected to a larger organization. No “chatter” was picked up on surveillance before the attack. The News also has police sources who say “the van’s vehicle identification number was defaced, but detectives have been been able to decipher some characters. They also have lifted some fingerprints from the vehicle and traced its stolen Connecticut license plate to a junkyard called Kramer’s Used Auto Parts in Stratford, Conn.” Finally, the News adds that the gun container found inside the van will be opened soon. [NYDN]

Update 6: MSNBC says “police officials were traveling to Pennsylvania to check out a claim by a tourist to have captured images of a suspect.” NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly also doubts the involvement of Pakistan’s Taliban, saying there’s no evidence to support it. [MSNBC]

Update 7: Ray Kelly says that the tourist’s video may show the suspect from about half a block away from where the SUV was left. “We’re currently examining video that shows a white male in his 40s, in Schubert Alley, looking back in the direction of West 45th Street,” Kelly said. “He also was seen shedding a dark-colored shirt, revealing a red one underneath. He put the darker one into a bag that he was carrying.” And the gun locker has been opened: It contained eight bags of an unknown substance that Kelly said looks like fertilizer, and more firecrackers. [CNN]

Police Find Car Bomb in Times Square
Bomb Fears Shut Down Times Square [WSJ]
3 cops, street vendor stop Times Square car bomb from detonating; Gas, clock found inside car [NYDN]
Car bomb causes terror scare, forces evacuation in Times Square [NYP]
T-Shirt Vendor Takes On New Persona: Reluctant Hero of Times Square [City Room]

Someone Tried to Set Off a Car Bomb in Times Square (Updated)