Napolitano: Car Bomb Investigation Still Looking at Foreign Terrorist Links

Monday, 03 May 2010 12:05 PM

 

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WASHINGTON — The head of homeland security said Monday that investigators haven't ruled out any suspects, including foreign terrorist organizations, in the case of the unexploded car bomb that was parked in New York City's Times Square on Saturday night.

"Right now, every lead has to be pursued," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told NBC's "Today." "I caution against premature decisions one way or another."

The Pakistani Taliban appeared to claim responsibility for the car bomb in three videos that surfaced over the weekend, but New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said police have no evidence to support those claims. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday that "there is no evidence tied to international terrorism."

But Napolitano called it "premature to rule in or rule out" any suspects.
She praised New York street vendors who alerted police to the suspicious vehicle, telling CBS' "Early Show" that the incident is a reminder that "everybody needs to be and is a part of the process of being watchful, of being vigilant."

Napolitano was asked whether investigators thought the Times Square bomb attempt was similar to a 2006 plot in London, in which a 35-year-old British convert to Islam was convicted of plotting to bomb several U.S. financial targets and luxury London hotels using limousines packed with gas tanks, napalm and nails.

"It's somewhat similar, but again I caution that the last thing we want to do is draw premature conclusions which may obscure the actual leads we may be following," Napolitano said in an interview on CNN.

There has also been speculation that because the SUV was parked near the headquarters of Viacom, the attack might have been related to a controversial "South Park" episode that portrayed the Prophet Muhammad dressed in a bear costume. Viacom owns Comedy Central.

"I'm not going to speculate on speculation. It's out there as one theory. There may be others," Napolitano told CNN. "What we do know is that some person or persons parked a vehicle ... (and) tried to blow it up."

Investigators have spoken to the registered owner of an SUV used as a homemade car bomb in a failed terror attack in the heart of Times Square, police officials said Monday, but would not say what they learned.

Paul Browne, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for public information, would not give further details on the owner.

The 1993 dark-colored Nissan Pathfinder didn't have a clearly visible vehicle identification number but it was stamped on the engine and axle. Its license plates came from a car found in a Connecticut repair shop.

Investigators Monday were also looking to speak with a man in his 40s videotaped shedding his shirt near the sport utility vehicle where the bomb was found. The surveillance video, made public late Sunday, shows an unidentified white man apparently in his 40s slipping down Shubert 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.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday that investigators have some good leads besides the videotape of the man. Holder said in remarks to reporters that it is too early to say whether the incident was of foreign or domestic origin or to designate it as a terrorist incident.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, making the morning talk show rounds Monday, warned on NBC's "Today" that the person on the tape may not become a suspect.

"There are millions of people that come through Times Square," he said.

"This person happened to be in a position which a camera got a good shot of him, and maybe he had something to do with it but there's a very good chance that he did not. We're exploring a lot of leads."

The NYPD and FBI also were examining "hundreds of hours" of security videotape from around Times Square. They traveled to Pennsylvania for video shot by a tourist of a different person, and were evaluating the tape Monday and determining whether to make it public.

Police said the crude gasoline-and-propane bomb could have produced "a significant fireball" and sprayed shrapnel and metal parts with enough force to kill pedestrians and knock out windows. The SUV was parked on one of America's busiest streets, lined with Broadway theaters and restaurants and full of people out on a Saturday night.

The area bounced back quickly and had returned to its normal bustle on a rainy Monday morning.

The Pakistani Taliban appeared to claim responsibility for the car bomb in three videos that surfaced after the weekend scare, monitoring groups said. New York officials said police have no evidence to support the claims and noted that the same group had falsely taken credit for previous attacks on U.S. soil.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told "Today" on Monday that no suspects had been ruled out.

"Right now, every lead has to be pursued," she said. "I caution against premature decisions one way or another."

Police released a photograph of the SUV as it crossed an intersection at 6:28 p.m. Saturday. A vendor pointed out the SUV to an officer about two minutes later.

The explosive device in the SUV had cheap-looking alarm clocks connected to a 16-ounce can filled with fireworks, which were apparently intended to detonate the gas cans and set the propane afire in a chain reaction, said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Investigators had feared that a final component placed in the cargo area — a metal rifle cabinet packed a fertilizer-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 fertilizer, but NYPD bomb experts believe it was not a type volatile enough to explode like the ammonium nitrate grade fertilizer used in previous terror attacks, said police spokesman Paul Browne.

The exact amount of fertilizer was unknown. Police estimated the cabinet weighed 200 to 250 pounds when they pulled it from the vehicle.

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

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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