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Authorities still had no motive or suspects early Sunday morning after police disabled a Times Square car bomb.
Thousands of people, many of them tourists, were cleared from a twelve-block area around the landmark New York intersection when a vendor noticed smoke billowing from a Nissan SUV around 6:30 p.m. Saturday and reported it to police.
Onlookers were startled by the sight of teams of responding, officers carrying automatic weapons, and a bomb squad robot.
In a 2:15 a.m. press conference, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city had avoided what could have been “a very deadly event,” but still had “no idea who did this or why,” reports The New York Times.
Police officers from the emergency service unit and firefighters flooded the area, but were troubled by the hazard lights and running engine, and by the fact that the SUV was oddly angled in the street. At this point, a firefighter from Ladder 4 reported hearing several “pops” from within the vehicle. The police also learned that the Pathfinder had the wrong license plates on it.
Members of the Police Department’s bomb squad donned protective gear, broke the Pathfinder’s back windows and sent in a “robotic device” to “observe” it, said Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne, the police department’s chief spokesman.
Inside, they discovered three canisters of propane like those used for barbecue grills, two five-gallon cans of gasoline, consumer-grade fire works — the apparent source of the “pops” — and two clocks with batteries, the mayor said. He said the device “looked amateurish.”
Nearby buildings were evacuated and people around Times Square, where several Broadway theaters were set to stage big shows, described feelings of fear and scenes of panic.
"It was a mass of people running away from the scene," a woman standing two blocks south of the SUV was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.
"When I saw this happening I immediately thought, 'terrorism,'" Swiss tourist Marie Saint Claire told The New York Daily News. "It makes me scared to know how close I was to being blown up. This is life in New York now?"
President Barack Obama praised the “quick action” by the New York Police Department and said his top counterterrorism adviser would be communicating with local authorities, reports Reuters.
The last car bomb to hit New York City was in 1993 underneath the one of the towers of the World Trade Center, which were later demolished in the attacks of 9/11.
Four men arrested in May of last year on charges of planning to bomb New York City synagogues also demonstrated to authorities the threat of homegrown terrorists operating independently, reports The Christian Science Monitor.
But even without organized instruction, so-called "bunches of guys" jihadists can still be very dangerous. Participants in the New York temple plot allegedly were willing, even eager, to attack unsuspecting civilians and US military aircraft.