Pakistani Taliban claims responsibility for Times Square bombBy PERVAIZ SHALLWANI, REID EPSTEIN AND JENNIFER BARRIOS
May 2, 2010
As investigators searched the crude assortment of explosives left late Saturday in a parked SUV in the heart of Times Square, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said there was no evidence to support the claim said to have been from the Pakistani Taliban taking responsibility for the terror threat.
An intelligence monitoring group released a one-minute video allegedly from the Pakistani Taliban, in which it claimed responsibility for the failed bombing in a smoking SUV left parked in the city on Saturday night, clearing thousands of tourists and theatergoers from the city’s busiest district.
The U.S.-based SITE intelligence group, which monitors militant websites, said the Pakistani Taliban claims the attack is revenge for the death of its leader Baitullah Mehsud and the recent killings of the top leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq. Images of the slain militants are shown as an unidentified voice recites the message. English subtitles are at the bottom of the screen.
“There is no credible way to prove that the Taliban have this kind of capacity to attempt such an attack in the heart of the United States,” an anonymous Pakistani intelligence source told CBS News.
The Nissan Pathfinder, filled with propane tanks, canisters of gasoline, firecrackers, two clocks with batteries and other electrical components, was found last night at about 6:30 p.m. just west of 7th Avenue on 45th Street.
The bomb began smoking and popping, but did not explode. It was diffused, and there were no injuries. The NYPD and FBI are investigating the origin of the Nissan Pathfinder, and tracing Connecticut plates that were found on the vehicle.
NYPD planned a press conference this afternoon to update the investigation.
Investigators said they were probing many possibilities, and that none was being ruled out. Times Square, an iconic New York tourist location, has many high-profile agencies. Among several theories is that the target could have been Viacom, the media conglomorate behind the TV show “South Park,” which last month portrayed the Prophet Mohammed in a bear suit, Rep. Peter King said in an interview with Newsday this morning.
"The vehicle was parked outside the Viacom building," said King (R-Seaford). "That's the home of MTV and Comedy Central, and with the ‘South Park’ controversies you don't know if that's related.”
After the "South Park" episode, a posting on the website Revolution Muslim warned the show's creators that they could "wind up like Theo Van Gogh,” the Dutch film-maker murdered in 2004 by a Muslim angered by his film about Muslim women.
"Obviously, it always looks more complicated if it's al-Qaeda," King added. "If its a Timothy McVeigh-type thing then it's a one-off." However, no one was saying that they have established any link to any terrorist group.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said yesterday morning officials are considering the act a “potential terrorist attack.”
But Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said preliminary reports indicate the bomb “not part of a worldwide conspiracy.”
“Signs point to the fact that it’s a lone wolf and not part of some type of network,” Schumer told Newsday today. Federal and city intelligence analysts did not hear any foreshadowing chatter about the incident, he said.
Schumer said Times Square surveillance cameras picked up footage of the vehicle, but the SUV's tinted windows obscured the view of the driver. “They couldn't see who was driving,” he said. “They couldn't see in the windows.”
Schumer said he has spoken with federal and city authorities and said he is optimistic they will find the perpetrator quickly.
“They have enough leads and enough evidence that they expect to find the guy,” he said.
Richard Kolko, spokesman for the New York office of the FBI, said only that all leads will be investigated.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) issued a statement saying the bomb was a reminder that more resources should be directed to homeland security.
“More homeland security dollars are critical to prevent the worst-case scenario - a dirty bomb or nuclear attack on our city,” she said.
King said police are scouring video shot from police and private cameras looking for anyone connected with the vehicle.
The SUV was towed early Sunday to a forensic lab in Queens, where it was being “thoroughly checked for prints, hairs and fibers,” top police spokesman Paul Browne said Sunday. Napolitano said fingerprints had been recovered from the vehicle.
Meanwhile, plainclothes and uniformed NYPD officers, including officers from the Technical Assistance Response Unit, joined throngs of early-morning tourists around the spot where the green Nissan Pathfinder was found last night around 6:30 p.m.
Police reopened the area at 7:30 a.m. today, and the area soon began filling with tourists and curiosity seekers taking pictures of the spot where the car was found.
"We avoided what we 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.”
Gov. David Paterson issued a statement last night in which he said: "Tonight, we owe an incredible debt of gratitude to the heroic actions of the New York City Police Department and to a single vigilant New Yorker who identified a suspicious vehicle near Times Square in New York City. Luckily, no one is hurt, and now the full attention of city, State and federal law enforcement will be turned to bringing the guilty party to justice in this act of terrorism."
The bomb appeared to be starting to detonate but malfunctioned, top police spokesman Paul Browne told The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Browne did not immediately return an e-mail to The Associated Press seeking confirmation.
Firefighters who arrived shortly after the first call heard a popping sound, said Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano, who described the sound as not quite an explosion.
"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.
Bloomberg left early from the White House correspondent’s dinner Saturday night. President Barack Obama, who attended the annual gala, praised the quick response by the New York Police Department, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said.
He has also directed his homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, to advise New York officials that the federal government is prepared to provide support.
Brennan and others will keep Obama up to date on the investigation, Shapiro said.
The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York responded along with the NYPD, said agent Richard Kolko.
"We have no idea who did this or why," the mayor said Sunday, but said that the city is always a top terrorism target. The latest threat came last fall when air shuttle driver Najibullah Zazi admitted to a foiled homemade bomb plot aimed at the city subway system.
“These things invariably ... come back to New York,” Bloomberg said.
Duane Jackson, 58, of Buchanan, Westchester County, a vendor who sells purses and scarves at a booth across the street from where the car was parked, said he was one of the first to notice the vehicle.
Jackson said he thought it was strange that the unattended car was parked in a “No Standing” spot with the engine running, so he had walked over to peer inside the vehicle’s front windows.
"When I first looked at the car, I looked at the keys,” Jackson said. “There were a lot of keys inside. That just struck me as weird.”
A few minutes later, the car began emitting smoke, and 10 minutes later he said he heard the “pop, pop, pop” of the firecrackers igniting.
“When the smoke started coming out, people started backing away,” he said. “And when the firecrackers started popping, people ran.”
Police surrounded the area a few minutes later, after he and another vendor alerted them, Jackson said.
Jackson said the street vendors act as the “eyes and ears” of the area.
“When you’re in Times Square, you have to keep your wits about you,” he said.
“It certainly could have been a lot worse than it turned out to be if those things had gone off,” Jackson said. “I’m only 8 feet away from it and it could have been really bad.”