Bomb scare empties Times Square

NY police defuse device which contained explosive elements, rule out terror act

Bomb scare empties Times Square

Times Square is void of pedestrians just south of 46th Street in New York on Saturday. AP

 Crowds were lined up on the south side of 43rd Street as the heart of Times Square was closed off to traffic.

“It appears to be a car bomb left in a Pathfinder between Seventh and Eighth” Avenues on 45th Street, said Deputy Commissioner Paul J Browne, Police Department’s chief spokesman.

The device, he said, contained “explosive elements” that included “propane tanks, some kind of powder, gasoline and a timing device.”

Browne, speaking shortly before 1 am on Sunday said he did not believe anyone was in custody. “We have not identified any kind of a motive,” he said.

Browne said the police were checking security cameras after reports that someone had fled from the car.

President briefed

The White House said President Obama had been briefed on the episode and had pledged federal assistance in the investigation.

A federal official said domestic security officials have been informed that the event did not appear to be a terrorist threat. The official referred all requests for additional information to New York City police.

The explosive materials were discovered about 6:30 pm on Saturday by a mounted police officer who saw a box with smoke pouring from it in the back of the Pathfinder, Browne said. The officer called for backup, and the fire department and bomb squad.

The Pathfinder’s back window was broken out, Browne said and the police sent in a “robotic device” to “observe it.”

Browne said gunpowder had been found in the vehicle, but not a high-grade explosive. The timing device was a clock attached to wires. The gasoline was in cans and there appeared to be two or three propane tanks.

Kevin B Barry, a former supervisor in the New York Police Department bomb squad, said he was told that it was an improvised explosive device. But somehow, he said, the ignition source “failed to function the main charge.”

He said if it had functioned, “it would be more of an incendiary event” than an explosion.

Bustling place

Times Square on a Saturday night is one of the busiest and most populated locations in the city, and has long been seen as a likely target for some kind of attack. The police began evacuating Times Square, starting with businesses along Seventh Avenue, including a Foot Locker store and a McDonald’s.

They eventually shut down traffic from 44th to 49th Streets between Sixth and Eighth Avenues. A maze of metal barricades kept pedestrians south of 43rd Street. In the centre of Times Square, dozens of police and fire vehicles were parked on Broadway and Seventh Avenue, but in Times Square between 42nd and 43rd Streets, tourists milled or sat at tables, much as they do on any other Saturday night.

On Eighth Avenue at around 11:30 pm people carrying theatre playbills were directed west on 44th Street out to Eighth Avenue. On 8th Avenue police officers used large pieces of orange netting to corral pedestrians and separate them from traffic.
Many people stayed to watch after being shut out of Broadway shows or prevented from getting back to their hotels, trading rumours about what was happening. It appeared that some theatres might have been evacuated. The giant Toys “R” Us store, between 44th and 45th Streets, was empty.

Some theatres were evacuated, but many were not, and some shows, like “In the Heights” got a late start, according to a spokeswoman for the Broadway League, the trade group of theatre owners and producers. Spokeswoman Elisa Shevitz said she may have not all the details about how theatres were affected until Sunday.
In the initial hours of the investigation, much remained unclear. The license plates on the Nissan were registered to another vehicle, the police said.

A New York City firefighter said the vehicle was smoking and that he saw “a flash” from the back of the it. “We put two and two together” and the evacuation was ordered, he said.

In December, the police closed Times Square for nearly two hours as they investigated a suspiciously parked van, delaying the rehearsal of the New Year’s ball drop. However, the van turned out to contain nothing but clothing.

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