Police: Owner of NYC Car Bomb SUV Traced

An SUV was found in New York's Times Square filled with gasoline, propane and wires. It smoked but did not detonate. CBS

Last Updated 8:24 a.m. ET

Police investigating a terror attack that could have set off a deadly fireball in Times Square focused Sunday on finding a man who was videotaped shedding his shirt near the SUV where the bomb was found.

Police said the gasoline-and-propane bomb was crude but could have 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 theaters and restaurants on a Saturday night.

Top police spokesman Paul Browne says more than 100 pounds of a substance found in the back of the SUV was fertilizer.

But unlike the ammonium nitrate grade fertilizer that has been used in terror attacks including the Oklahoma City bombing, Browne says this fertilizer would not have caused a massive explosion.

The surveillance video shows an unidentified white man in his 40s slipping down an alley and taking off a 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 Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

The homemade bomb was made largely with ordinary items, including three barbecue grill-size propane tanks, two 5-gallon gasoline containers, store-bought fireworks and cheap alarm clocks attached to wires.

"Clearly it was the intent of whoever did this to cause mayhem,
to create casualties," Kelly said.

New York police and FBI agents are going store to store in Manhattan rounding up security tapes that may hold clues, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr.

Because the device did not explode and the car was not destroyed, police have a wealth of forensic evidence. And investigators are using motor vehicle logs and toll booth records to track both the car's ownership history and recent movements, Orr reports.

Appearing on CBS' "The Early Show" this morning, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said there was not enough evidence yet to conclude whether the plot was the product of a "lone wolf" or a conspiracy, but that every lead was being investigated.

"They are being pursued through a joint task force, including the New York City Police Department plus the FBI and law enforcement officials from our department. So every lead that has been generated is being tracked to its source."

Authorities didn't know how deadly the bomb could have been, how it failed or who was responsible.

Police had already identified the registered owner of the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder - which didn't have an easily visible vehicle identification number and had license plates from another car - and were looking to interview him. Police also were searching more video, believed to be in the possession of a Pennsylvania tourist, of the man in the alley.

The bomb at Times Square, one of the flashiest and best-known places on Earth, was found at the height of dinner hour before theatergoers headed to Saturday night shows.

Timers were connected to a 16-ounce can filled with fireworks, which were apparently intended to set the gas cans and propane afire, Kelly said.

He said the bomb "looks like it would have caused a significant fireball" had it fully detonated. He said the vehicle would have been "cut in half" by an explosion and people nearby could have been sprayed by shrapnel and killed.

Police had feared that another component - a metal rifle cabinet packed with more than 100 pounds of a fertilizer-like substance and rigged with wires and more fireworks - could have made the device even more devastating. Test results late Sunday showed that it was indeed fertilizer - but not a type volatile enough to explode like the ammonium nitrate grade fertilizer used in previous terror attacks.

In an apparent bid to bolster its claimed connection to the attack, the Pakistani Taliban released a video - apparently dated early April - of their leader promising an attack on major U.S. cities "in some days or a month," a monitoring group said.

It does not specifically mention the Times Square plot.

Militant chief Hakimullah Mehsud says he is speaking on April 4 of this year, which would bolster recent reports that he did not die of a U.S. missile strike in January.

IntelCenter, which keeps track of militant media messages, says Monday that the nearly 9 minute video appears credible.

The Pakistani Taliban had claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing in a video posted on the Internet earlier Sunday, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. SITE, a U.S.-based terrorist tracking organization, first uncovered the video on YouTube; it later appeared to have been removed from the website.

In a copy of the first video provided by SITE, an unidentified voice speaking in Urdu, the primary language in Pakistan, says the group takes "full responsibility for the recent attack in the USA." The video does not mention any details about Saturday's attack.
But Pakistan security officials dismissed the claim.

"There is no credible way to prove that the Taliban have this kind of capacity to attempt such an attack in the heart of the United States," a Pakistani intelligence official told told CBS News' Farhan Bokhari on condition of anonymity. "A claim is far easier to make than to be carried out in real life."

The militant group said the attack was revenge for the death of its leader, Baitullah Mehsud, and the recent slaying of al Qaeda in Iraq leaders Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who were killed by U.S. and Iraqi troops last month north of Baghdad. The video also mentioned Aafia Siddiqui, a 37-year-old Pakistani scientist who was convicted in a U.S. court in New York in February of trying to kill American service personnel after her arrest in Afghanistan in 2008.

If the claim is genuine, it would be the first time the Pakistani Taliban has struck outside of South Asia. It has no known global infrastructure like al Qaeda.

In at least one past instance, the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for an attack it played no role in. Mehsud reportedly said his men were behind a mass shooting in March 2009 at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, N.Y., in April 2009. That claim turned out to be false.

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

"No more New York," said Crysta Salinas. The 28-year-old Houston woman was stuck waiting in a deli until 2 a.m. because part of a Marriott hotel was evacuated because of the bomb.

A Pakistani Taliban group claimed responsibility for the failed attack in a 1-minute video. Kelly, however, 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. The commissioner also cast doubt on an e-mail to a news outlet claiming responsibility.

The New York Police Department and FBI were also examining "hundreds of hours" of security videotape from around Times Square, Kelly said.

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

The license plate found on the vehicle did not belong to the SUV; police said it came from a car found in a repair shop in Connecticut.

Duane Jackson, a 58-year-old handbag vendor from Buchanan, N.Y., said he noticed the car and wondered who had left it there in a no-standing zone.

"You had a car with no driver," Jackson said. "There were keys in the car and the car was running."

Jackson said he looked in the car and saw keys in the ignition with 19 or 20 keys on a ring. He said he alerted a passing mounted police officer.

They were looking in the car "when the smoke started coming out and then we heard the little pop-pop-pop like firecrackers going out and that's when everybody scattered and ran back," he said.

"Now that I saw the propane tanks and the gasoline, what if that would have ignited?" Jackson said. "I'm less than 8 feet away from the car."

Times Square lies about four miles north of where terrorists bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, then destroyed it on Sept. 11, 2001.

Top federal law enforcement and intelligence officials - President Barack Obama's national security adviser James Jones, national intelligence director Dennis Blair, CIA chief Leon Panetta, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder - planned to participate in a meeting later Sunday on the bomb.

The last terror threat in New York came last fall when air shuttle driver Najibullah Zazi admitted to a foiled homemade bomb plot aimed at the city subway system.

The theater district in London was the target of a propane bomb attack in 2007. No one was injured when police discovered two Mercedes loaded with nails packed around canisters of propane and gasoline.


To watch an excerpt from a 2006 "60 Minutes" report on "Defending New York," click on the player below:


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