Car Bomb In Times Square Fails To Explode

The New York Police Department found a sport utility vehicle emitting smoke in Times Square Saturday night. It was a car bomb on 45th Street that had started to detonate, but for some reason didn't explode. Although the bombing was thwarted, Times Square was cleared and a block was closed. Host Liane Hansen speaks with NPR correspondent Dina Temple-Raston about the bomb.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Last night around dinnertime, the New York Police Department spotted a suspicious-looking sport utility vehicle emitting smoke in Times Square. It was a car bomb on 45th Street that had started to detonate but didn't go off. Mayor Michael Bloomberg talked about it at about 2:00 A.M. after the New York Police Department had successfully disarmed the device.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Republican, New York City): We avoided what could have been a very deadly event.

HANSEN: Mayor Bloomberg said it could have exploded and set off a big fire.

NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston is in New York. She joins us. Good morning, Dina.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Good morning.

HANSEN: What can you tell us about what was found and what's known so far?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, all there were some small pops and some smoke that came from this car, this Nissan Pathfinder, which was parked on 45th Street. And that's what got people's attention.

There was this t-shirt vendor who was across the street who sort of flagged down a mounted policeman and pointed out the car. And then the actual, you know, NYPD bomb team arrived, they had a bomb robot go up and take a look, and found three propane tanks, fireworks, two five-gallon containers filled with gas, two clocks with batteries and electrical wire connecting all this together inside the car.

Everyone that I've talked to said that the bomb was really amateurish. And there was apparently a black metal box resembling a gun locker that was found inside the car, too. And the NYPD is taking that up to the Bronx to detonate it.

Now, this isn't like a fertilizer, huge bomb, like the one that Timothy McVeigh used in Oklahoma, that - something that would bring down a building. Apparently this is something that just would've caused a huge ball of fire.

HANSEN: In a very crowded Times Square.

TEMPLE-RASTON: A very crowded square, exactly.

HANSEN: What happens next in the investigation?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, there are a couple of interesting details, so far. Sources told me the first is that the car had a Connecticut license plate that was stolen from a junkyard in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Apparently they contacted the owner of the car that the plate was connected to and apparently he junked the car and the plates were still on it.

The second interesting thing is that the VIN number, the vehicle identification number, on this Pathfinder was removed, or at least the one you can get to easily, the one by the windshield was removed. And there are other VIN numbers elsewhere in the car, so I expect that that's one of the first things they're going to do is try to find that VIN number.

And you'll recall that the way that they tracked the Ryder truck in the Oklahoma bombing to Timothy McVeigh was by finding an axle of the truck and it had a VIN number on it.

So what's going to happen now is forensics are going to go over this vehicle piece by piece. They're going to look for DNA evidence, fingerprints, other VIN numbers. And the NYPD will start fanning out to talk to people who might have seen something.

HANSEN: But there are cameras, too, all over Times Square, so the suspects may actually be on video.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they already have one NYPD camera that caught this green Pathfinder going west on 45th Street at about 6:28, which is just before this all started to take place. Now what they're going to do is fan out to some of the private buildings around the Square and see if their private security cameras possibly picked up photographs of the suspects. They couldn't do that last night because it was too late and everything was closed.

HANSEN: Are there any theories on who might be behind this or is it really too early to tell?

TEMPLE-RASTON: It's way too early to tell. People I've talked to see this as possible domestic terrorism because of the simplicity of the bomb. It's also possible that this was some sort of test run, you know, someone who's learning how to make a bomb and will learn from what went wrong with this. I mean, clearly there was some sort of ignition but it didn't go off the way it was supposed to. I think all that will happen in the next couple of days. We'll start to see more details on this.

HANSEN: Right, and hear about what's going on. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. Dina, thank you very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

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