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NY police look for suspects behind failed car bombing

May 03, 2010

New York police on Monday looked for suspects behind an attempted car bombing of Times Square, pursuing what authorities said were several strong leads, including camera footage of a suspicious man leaving the scene.

President Barack Obama vowed to track down the perpetrators as security forces began scrutinizing evidence from a Nissan Pathfinder SUV abandoned late Saturday in the theatre district with a large, spluttering homemade bomb inside.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the initial suspects in the minds of many were not to blame.

"There is no evidence that this is tied in with Al-Qaeda or any other big terrorist organization," Bloomberg said.

"I'm confident we'll find out who did it," Bloomberg said alongside the police officer who was first on the scene and whom the billionaire mayor was treating to dinner in Times Square as a reward.

"This is the crossroads of the world. People feel safe in New York and they will continue to come here," Bloomberg said.

It remained unclear why the improvised device -- comprised of fireworks, propane, gasoline and possibly fertilizer -- failed to detonate, despite smoldering after partly catching fire in the back of the Nissan.

Kelly said the bomb, had it exploded in the teeming entertainment district, would have created a "significant fireball." The car "would have at least have been cut in half," he said.

On a visit to the oil spill on Louisiana's coast, Obama said US security services and New York law enforcement would do "what's necessary" to find the culprit.

"My national security teams have been taking every step necessary to ensure that our state and local partners have the full support and cooperation of the federal government," Obama said.

Police had a mass of clues, starting with footage from 82 security cameras in Times Square and the car and bomb, which were hauled to police laboratories in New York.

One sequence of film showed a man that Kelly said was acting in a "furtive" manner and changing his clothes as he walked away from the area.

He was "a white male in his 40s" and "seen shedding a dark colored shirt revealing a red one underneath," Kelly said.

In addition to that footage, Kelly said a tourist passerby had contacted police to say he too "may have got a picture of the individual" caught in the frame while he was filming a nearby mounted policeman.

The engine was still running and the emergency lights were blinking when the car, emitting smoke, attracted the attention of a nearby street vendor.

The vendor, a Vietnam War veteran, told police, who quickly realized it was not an ordinary car fire and brought in the bomb squad.

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

Officials said the attempted bombing was terrorism, but they were cautious about suggesting who might have been behind the attack, raising speculation that domestic or "homegrown" militants were responsible.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the FBI, the New York police and the government's Terrorism Task Force were probing a "potential terrorist attack."

So far there was no evidence of a broader plot, but law enforcement authorities had been alerted to "stay on their toes," she said.

The bomb, while threatening "mayhem," according to Kelly, was comprised of the kind of materials available from regular stores. Bloomberg called it "amateurish."

Kelly described a multi-layered device consisting of two alarm clocks as timers, a pot of fireworks as detonator, two canisters of gasoline, three propane gas tanks and a large box containing what was believed to be fertilizer.

The scare raised tensions across the United States where security forces have been on edge since a young Nigerian allegedly attempted to set off a bomb on a US airliner as it came in to land in Detroit, Michigan.

New York City police are on constant alert after a string of terrorist plots and alleged plots in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In February, Afghan immigrant and self-confessed Al-Qaeda agent Najibullah Zazi, 25, pleaded guilty to a plot to set off bombs in New York's subway system. He could be sentenced to life in prison.

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