Bombers' Times Square plan: Use remaining bombs in New York, FBI says

Bombers' Times Square plan was hatched spontaneously, the FBI told New York officials, based on its interrogation of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters
New York Police Department cars park in Times Square in New York, Thursday. The alleged Boston Marathon bombers planned a second bomb attack on New York's Times Square, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
Mark Lennihan/AP
New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly (l.) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg hold a news conference, Thursday, in New York. The two say the Boston Marathon bombing suspects intended to blow up their remaining explosives in Times Square.

After carjacking an SUV in Boston, the alleged Boston Marathon bombers came up with a spontaneous plan – go to New York City’s Times Square and set off more bombs, city officials announced Thursday.

At an afternoon press conference, New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the FBI told them that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, as part of his 16-hour FBI interrogation, identified New York as “next on their list of targets.”

Kelly said that initially, in the first interrogation that stretched from Saturday night into Sunday morning, Mr. Tsarnaev told investigators that he and his older brother, Tamerlan, planned to go to New York to “party.”

But in the second interrogation, which stretched from Sunday night into Monday morning, Kelly said, Tsarnaev was more “lucid,” saying the actual plan was to drive to New York in the SUV and detonate their remaining bombs. According to Kelly, they had one pressure cooker bomb and five pipe bombs.

“We know they had the capacity to carry out the attacks,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

If the brothers had arrived in Times Square on a Saturday night at 2 or 3 a.m., Kelly says there would have been a significant number of people in the popular tourist spot.

Would more people have been killed or hurt?

“I would not want to guess,” Kelly replied. “You saw the power of the bombs in Boston, and you can only guess the damage in New York.”

But if the brothers had arrived in Times Square they would have found a large police presence, Bloomberg said. They probably would not have noticed all the cameras the city has erected in the area in an effort to head off crime. Some of the cameras are designed to quickly identify packages left on the ground, for example.

However, according to the FBI investigators, before the Tsarnaevs could head to New York, they discovered that the Mercedes SUV they had carjacked needed fuel. They stopped at a gas station, and the owner of the vehicle sprinted away and was able to alert police, who quickly found the vehicle. A chase and firefight ensued; Tamerlan was killed and Dzhokhar eventually captured.

The interrogation of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev took place under the Public Security Exception that allowed the FBI to question him before his Miranda rights – including the right to remain silent – were read to him on Monday by a federal magistrate judge. Whether the information in the two FBI interrogations can be used in court is arguable.

After the bombings in Boston, New York was quick to expand the police presence in areas with a lot of foot traffic such as Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station, and, of course, Times Square.

Times Square is where Faisal Shahad tried to set off a bomb in his car on May 1, 2010. Street vendors called the police when they saw smoke coming out of the trunk of the vehicle, and the bomb never went off.

According to Kelly, Dzhokhar visited Times Square with friends in April and November of 2012.  Kelly said the NYPD has a copy of a photograph taken of Dzhokhar and his friends in Times Square and that police have been able to identify some of his friends and are working to identify the others.

“We don’t know if those visits were related to the brothers’ decision to spontaneously target Times Square,” said Kelly, who added that the NYPD is trying to determine Dzhokhar’s movements when he was in New York City.

At their press conference, Bloomberg and Kelly emphasized that the NYPD was not in the room during the interrogation so they only had limited information. However, Bloomberg said the city always takes bomb threat information seriously.

“The fact is New York City remains a prime target for those who hate Americans and want to kill Americans,” said Bloomberg.

That is one of the reasons New York has more than 1,000 police officers in its antiterrorism unit. Since 9/11 the city has stopped over a dozen planned attacks.

“We will do all we can to keep everyone in the city safe,” he said. “Is it safe to go out tonight?” he asked, answering, “Yes.”

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