Times Square appeared almost back to normal this morning, hours after police defused a crude car bomb found in the back of an SUV parked on 45th Street at Broadway in the heart of the city’s tourist mecca.
Plainclothes and uniformed NYPD officers, including officers from the Technical Assistance Response Unit, joined throngs of early-morning tourists around the spot where a green Nissan Pathfinder was found last night around 6:30 p.m., filled with propane tanks and firecrackers, and with smoke coming out its tinted windows.
The car bomb was safely disarmed. 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."
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.
"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 knick-knacks 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.
“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.
With Associated Press