A car bomb nearly caused a bloodbath in the heart of Times Square yesterday as a homemade explosive device in an SUV parked outside the doors of “The Lion King” fizzled out.
The bomb caused a terror scare that forced thousands of people to evacuate the Crossroads of the World and turned Times Square into a ghost town for hours.
An unidentified T-shirt vendor, who is a Vietnam veteran, saw smoke billowing from a Nissan Pathfinder and alerted Police Officer Wayne Rhatigan, a mounted patrol cop, who looked inside the smoldering vehicle at around 6:30 p.m. on West 45th Street near Seventh Avenue in front of an entrance to the Minskoff Theatre, which houses the hugely popular Disney musical, Mayor Bloomberg said early this morning. Rhatigan, who has been on the force for 19 years, the last four in the Mounted Unit, smelled gunpowder and called in the Fire Department, which put out the car fire as he and two patrol officers cleared the area of civilians.
Bomb Squad members then searched the SUV, which bore Connecticut license plates that were actually registered to a Ford F-150, and found two gasoline cans, three propane tanks, electrical wires, black powder, consumer grade fireworks and two clocks, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said. “I think the intent was to cause a significant ball of fire,” Kelly said. A Bomb Squad robot was used to handle the suspicious package in the back of the vehicle, officials said.
Bloomberg called the device “amateurish” but said that the city was “very lucky” because of the quick-thinking actions of the hero T-shirt vendor and Rhatigan.
There was a “box within a box” in the car, a 2X2X4 black gun locker, Kelly said. The Mayor added that the cameras, “couldn’t detect who was in the vehicle, how many were in the vehicle and what was in the vehicle.”
Cops were looking at other security videos from various cameras in the area that may have captured images of the suspect. Authorities searched the immediate area for any possible secondary devices, but no other areas were evacuated. Also an NYPD and federal manhunt for the suspect began. Investigators interviewed the person who had the license plates before they were put on the Pathfinder. That person is not a suspect and told officials that he dropped the plates off at a junkyard. Police are trying to track down the owner of that junkyard.