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Man on video sought after NYC car bomb plot fails

Photo by Donnie Ikpa

Photo by Donnie Ikpa

NEW YORK -- The car bomb was a crude concoction of ordinary items -- fireworks, fuel and fertilizer -- that authorities suspect was meant to cause maximum mayhem in the heart of Times Square.

In the end, the device fizzled and the city and its residents counted themselves lucky once again: lucky that a vendor saw smoke creeping out of the car parked in one of the busiest streets in America; lucky that authorities responded quickly; and lucky that the would-be terrorists were clumsy enough to assemble a bomb that wasn't capable of exploding.

But it was enough to fray nerves and set off a frenzied probe in what New York Police Department officials called the most serious car bomb plot in the city since the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, in which six people were killed and more than 1,000 injured.

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

The hunt was on Monday for a middle-aged man who was videotaped shedding his shirt near the sport utility vehicle where the bomb was found. Authorities also wanted to talk to the owner of the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder.

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."

Bloomberg also reiterated on ABC's "Good Morning America" there was no "legitimate" evidence that foreign terrorists were connected to the attack.

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.

But 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."

The New York 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. Police hoped to interview the tourist who took the video.

The NYPD and FBI also were examining "hundreds of hours" of security videotape from around Times Square.

Despite the attempt to instill fear, Times Square sprung back to life.

"This is America. This is what we do," said Earl Morriss of Seattle, who was sightseeing. "Nobody is going to stop us from living our lives and doing what we want to do."

Police had identified the registered owner of the dark-colored Pathfinder and were looking to interview him. The vehicle didn't have an easily visible vehicle identification number and had license plates that came from a car found in a repair shop in Connecticut.

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, Kelly said. It could have cut the SUV in half, produced "a significant fireball" and sprayed shrapnel and metal parts with enough force to kill pedestrians and knock out windows.

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.

"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.

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Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Deepti Hajela and Michael Kuchwara in New York, AP Radio correspondent Julie Walker in New York, AP writers Eileen Sullivan and Pete Yost in Washington D.C., Colleen Long in North Carolina, Robert H. Reid in Kabul, and Ryan Lucas in Cairo.