Military recruiters target of Times Square bomb?
The Nissan Pathfinder that contained a crude bomb was parked only yards from an Armed Forces recruiting station in Times Square that has been the target of an earlier anarchist attack and protests, lending credence to theories that the device was assembled by relative amateurs, not al-Qaeda-affiliated operatives.
But a laboratory examination of the bomb’s wiring will tell authorities much more about its origin, former counterterrorism officials say.
Police said the device, which included three propane canisters and two five-gallon cans of gasoline, was not sophisticated.
“Consumer-grade fireworks, resembling a model known as M-80s, were taped around the outside of the gasoline cans,” The New York Times reported, quoting “several people briefed on the contents of the car.”
“Two clocks with batteries, including one that resembled a child’s toy, were connected to the device by small wires,” the paper’s Web site said.
But investigators were also "trying to identify the contents of a heavy steel case found locked in the vehicle," The Post reported.
“The fireworks seem very screwy,” Charles Faddis, who headed the CIA Counterterrorism Center’s weapons of mass destruction unit when he retired in 2008, said by e-mail.
“The only rational reason to use a firework of some kind would be as a fuse. If you have a simple mechanical fuse, why do you have clocks? Either you are confused-inexperienced-crazy, or you are just messing with people for some reason,” Faddis added.
“Sounds like homegrown stuff to me …” said another senior former CIA official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because he still consults with the government on sensitive cases, “but if it is [al-Qaeda] related, they have lost significant capability if this is what they are reduced to.”
Former White House terrorism advisor Richard A. Clarke said the incident “was similar to” the car bomb discovered outside the Tiger Tiger nightclub in London in 2007, which involved a Mercedes packed with gasoline.
Police found a cell phone in the car, and a second car bomb was discovered later before it exploded, leading to suspicions that they were the work of al-Qaeda operatives or sympathizers.
“But it’s very amateur,” Clarke said of the Times Square bomb. “It could be a lone wolf, it could be any or all of the above, including a lone-wolf Islamist. We have to remain open-minded about who it could be.”
New York authorities scheduled a press conference for 3 p.m. Sunday.
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said Sunday that her department is handling the incident as a potential terrorist attack but saw no larger plot at work.
“Right now, we have no evidence other than it is a one-off,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.”
One hallmark of most al-Qaeda-affiliated attacks has been a willingness of Islamist bombers to go up in flames with their handiwork, whether in Iraq, on airliners, or in the 2005 attacks on the London transport system.
American radicals, in contrast, like to live to see their bombs go off.
A bicyclist tossed a small bomb at the Armed Forces Recruiting Center in Times Square in the middle of the night of March 6, 2008. No one was injured and the recruiting center suffered only minimal damage.
Anonymous letters sent to Capitol Hill, railing against the Iraq War, claimed “We did it.”
The recruiting center, on a small traffic island between Broadway and 7th Avenue, was also the target of an “anarchist” protest in March 2009, according to news reports at the time.
Police and FBI agents are investigating a 911 call placed at 4 a.m. Sunday from a public telephone near Times Square warning of an imminent explosion.
According to a news report, the car bomb in was only “a diversion.”
Faddis, also author of “Willful Neglect, The Dangerous Illusion of Homeland Security,” said “terrorist groups all around the world have run probing ops in the past. Leave a package outside an embassy and then watch how security deals with it.”
“Let's hope it is not the latter, because that would imply some very smart boys have something much bigger in mind,” he said.
| May 2, 2010; 3:15 PM ET
Categories: Intelligence, Justice/FBI | Tags: Al-Qaeda, Weapon of mass destruction
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