Times Square Car Bomb Could Have Created 'Big Fireball'

A car bomb installed in an SUV and driven into a parking spot near New York's Times Square around dinner time on Saturday was of relatively primitive design and construction. But if it had exploded, it could have created a "big fireball" and spewed out "a lot of shrapnel" that might have killed or maimed many people visiting the busy Manhattan entertainment district, a senior law-enforcement official tells Declassified. The person or people who constructed and planted the device are currently unknown, and there was no advance warning, the official adds.

The official, who asked for anonymity when discussing an ongoing investigation, says there are indications some trouble was taken to make it difficult for investigators to find the bombers. The vehicle in which the bomb was planted, a Nissan Pathfinder, carried Connecticut license plates. But quick checks of the plates showed that they did not match the bomb-carrying vehicle. When investigators examined the unique vehicle identification number (VIN) that car manufacturers stamp on various parts of a vehicle, they found it had been obliterated—a process that would take some effort, since the VIN is stamped or etched onto metal parts. The SUV is now being examined thoroughly at a New York Police Department laboratory, which may be able to retrieve the VIN using scientific methods.

The law-enforcement official says police have retrieved closed-circuit video showing the SUV being driven onto West 45th Street from Broadway at 6:28 p.m. on Saturday. It was parked in a spot near Times Square on 45th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues—right off the heart of the Times Square crossroads at Seventh Avenue and Broadway. The identity of the driver—even the driver's gender—cannot be determined from the available video, the official says.

On a Sunday-morning talk show, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that there is currently no evidence that the bomb was "anything other than a one-off." But on another show, she said the event was being handled as a "potential terrorist attack . . . We're taking this very seriously."

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The first alarm call was raised by a mounted NYPD officer at 6:34 p.m. The report was that a car was filling with smoke.

Examination of the bomb showed its construction was "crude by some standards," though had it worked, it certainly could have done a lot of damage, the official says. The main charge was apparently composed of propane gas cylinders. These in turn were put next to one-gallon containers of gasoline, which is highly explosive. Unspecified "timing devices" were rigged to send an electrical charge to a cluster of M-80 fireworks, which would have served as the initial detonator. The idea apparently was for the timing devices to trigger the fireworks, which would then ignite the gasoline, which would detonate the propane tanks.

The bomb design appears to be at least loosely similar to two car bombs that failed to go off during an attempted London attack in June 2007. Somewhat eerily, those bombs were planted near Piccadilly Circus—the heart of a theater and entertainment district, the closest thing London has to Times Square. An Iraqi doctor was later convicted for that attack; he was arrested after he and an accomplice tried to drive a car bomb into Glasgow airport the day after the failed London attack. The accomplice was killed in the airport-bombing attempt.

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Times Square Car Bomb Could Have Created 'Big Fireball' | U.S.