x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Man on video hunted after NYC car bomb plot fails

Police are searching for a middle-aged white man who was videotaped shedding his shirt near the sport utility vehicle where the bomb was found.

The car bomb was a crude concoction of ordinary items - fireworks, fuel and fertiliser - that authorities suspect was meant to cause maximum mayhem in the heart of Times Square. In the end, the device fizzled and the city and its residents counted themselves lucky. lucky that a vendor saw smoke creeping out of the car parked in one of the busiest streets in America, lucky that authorities responded quickly, and lucky that the would-be terrorists were clumsy enough to assemble a bomb that wasn't capable of exploding.

But it was a close enough call to fray nerves and set off a frenzied probe in what New York Police Department officials called the most serious car bomb plot in the city since the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. "Clearly it was the intent of whoever did this to cause mayhem, to create casualties," police commissioner Raymond Kelly said. The hunt was on Monday for a middle-aged man who was videotaped shedding his shirt near the sport utility vehicle where the bomb was found. They also wanted to talk to the owner of the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder.

The petrol-and-propane bomb could have cut the sport utility vehicle in half, produced "a significant fireball" and sprayed shrapnel and metal parts with enough force to kill pedestrians and knock out windows on one of America's busiest streets, full of Broadway theatres and restaurants on a Saturday night, Mr Kelly said. The Pakistani Taliban appeared to claim responsibility for an attempted car bombing in New York in three separate videos that surfaced after the weekend scare, monitoring groups said.

Mr Kelly said police have no evidence to support the claims and noted that the same group had falsely taken credit for previous attacks on US soil. Times Square had since sprung back to life, despite the attempt to instil fear. "This is America. This is what we do," said Earl Morriss, of Seattle, who went about seeing the sights. "Nobody is going to stop us from living our lives and doing what we want to do."

The New York surveillance video, made public late Sunday, shows an unidentified white man apparently in his 40s slipping down an alley and taking off his shirt, revealing another underneath. In the same clip, he's seen looking back in the direction of the smoking vehicle and furtively putting the first shirt in a bag. Police hoped to interview the tourist who took the video. The NYPD and FBI also were examining "hundreds of hours" of security videotape from around Times Square, Kelly said.

Police had already identified the registered owner of the dark-coloured Pathfinder and were looking to interview him. The vehicle didn't have an easily visible vehicle identification number and had license plates that came from a car found in a repair shop in Connecticut. Police released a photograph of the SUV as it crossed an intersection at 6:28pm on Saturday. A vendor pointed the SUV out to an officer about two minutes later.

The explosive device in the SUV had cheap-looking alarm clocks connected to a 16-ounce (45-gram) barrel filled with fireworks, which were apparently intended to detonate the petrol barrels and set the propane afire in a chain reaction, Mr Kelly said. Investigators had feared that a final component placed in the cargo area - a metal rifle cabinet packed a fertiliser-like substance and rigged with wires and more fireworks - could have made the device even more devastating. Test results late Sunday showed it was indeed fertiliser, but NYPD bomb experts believe it was not a type volatile enough to explode like the ammonium nitrate grade fertiliser used in previous terror attacks, said police spokesman Paul Browne.

The exact amount of fertiliser was unknown, but police estimated the cabinet - with a manufacturer-listed weight of 35 kilograms - weighed around 113 kilograms when they pulled it from the vehicle. Though the attack was botched, Browne said it was considered the first serious car bomb plot in the city since 1993, when Islamic extremists exploded a rented van carrying up to 680 kilograms of fertiliser in the parking garage of the World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000 others.

Times Square, choked with taxis and people on one of the first summer-like days of the year, was shut down for 10 hours, unnerving thousands of tourists attending Broadway shows, museums and other city sights. Detectives took the stage at the end of some of the shows to announce to theatergoers that they were looking for witnesses in a bombing attempt. * AP