No Evidence Taliban Behind Times Square Bombing Attempt, NYC's Kelly Says

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said there is no evidence to suggest the Pakistani Taliban movement was behind a bombing attempt in Times Square yesterday.

The group claimed responsibility for the attempt in a video posted on YouTube. A tie to Viacom Inc.’s “South Park” cartoon won’t be ruled out, Kelly said. The creators of the TV program are a possible target, CNN reported, after an episode showed images of the Prophet Muhammad in a bear costume.

“It was somebody who brought this to the location to send a message to terrorize people in the area,” Kelly said at a press conference this afternoon. “A terrorist act doesn’t necessarily have to be conducted by an organization.”

New York police disarmed a bomb in a Nissan Pathfinder sport-utility vehicle parked last night in Times Square, averting an attack in the heart of the city’s theater district. The car contained three propane tanks, consumer-grade fireworks, two filled 5-gallon gasoline containers and two clocks.

Kelly said police have video footage of a white male in his 40s walking down an alley close to where the vehicle was parked. The man in the tape was filmed taking a dark-colored shirt off, revealing a red one underneath, Kelly said.

Footage

Police are going to release the tape to try to get more information, Kelly said.

Tape from 30 of 83 video-surveillance cameras in the area have been reviewed and police are looking for more footage, Kelly said. They are traveling to Pennsylvania to view video taken in New York of a possible suspect.

The Pakistani Taliban movement claimed responsibility for yesterday’s attempt, according to SITE Intelligence Group, a Bethesda, Maryland-based company that monitors use of the Internet by Islamic militant groups.

In a video posted on YouTube, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Qari Hussein Mehsud said the attack was vengeance for the killings of two al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq, SITE said. Mehsud and other Pakistani Taliban spokesmen couldn’t immediately be reached by phone for confirmation of the report. Their movement has focused its attacks on Pakistani military and government targets, and has not previously conducted a confirmed attack in the United States.

Vendor Alerts Police

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaking at an news conference hours after the incident, said that a T-shirt vendor alerted a police officer to a suspicious SUV parked near the Minskoff Theater, where “The Lion King” musical is playing.

Bloomberg also said the vehicle identification number had been removed from the SUV, and police discovered its license plates, registered in the state of Connecticut, had been removed from a different vehicle, a truck discarded by its former owner at a Connecticut junkyard.

Bomb squad technicians used a robotic dismantler to take apart a crude explosive device that included the propane tanks, Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne, the department’s chief spokesman, said in a telephone interview earlier.

The vehicle was placed in an NYPD forensic garage in Queens this morning, Commissioner Kelly said.

Ensure Safety

The New York police and fire departments “responded swiftly and aggressively to a dangerous situation,” President Barack Obama said today.

“My national security team has been taking every step necessary” to ensure Americans’ safety, said Obama, who spoke with Bloomberg earlier.

New York City in 2009 was the top U.S. tourist destination with 45.25 million visitors, surpassing Orlando, Florida, home of Walt Disney Co.’s Walt Disney World and Las Vegas. New York City visitors spent about $28 billion last year, injecting about $45 billion of total purchases into the economy, NYC & Co. said.

Bloomberg took office in January 2002, a few months after the coordinated Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by the al-Qaeda terror group that killed almost 3,000 people, most at the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon just outside of Washington.

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

To contact the reporters on this story: Gillian Wee in New York at gwee3@bloomberg.net; James Rupert in New Delhi at jrupert3@bloomberg.net.

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