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Bomb-Making Materials Found Inside Vehicle Near Times Square in NYC

Aired May 2, 2010 - 05:30   ET


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: We discussed that in fact with the police chief just before New Year's Eve and they also, even, I'm looking at one right now, they even have cameras right at the intersections.

It's a way that the police are able to catch people who goes through red lights and so they send out traffic tickets that way so there's a very good chance, if they already know one camera, observe this SUV, a very good chance that there are others as well and perhaps, this is critical, perhaps that there's a camera that even caught the individual walking out of the vehicle. That would be obviously a critical clue here.

T.J. HOLMES, ANCHOR: All right, Allan Chernoff. We appreciate you're reporting this morning. I know you're not going to go too far. You're going to continue your reporting down there and we will continue to check in with you again.

We're at the bottom of the hour now. Again, to our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world who are joining us on CNN International, we are keeping an eye on has been an interesting or fascinating night in Time Square in New York City that you are seeing on your screen what you never see like that, empty at all hours of day and night.

This is a busy, busy place with tourists and locals, but today, you just see police vehicles after at 6:30 last night, some bomb making materials were found inside a vehicle and Time Square had to be evacuated.

Now, we heard reports from Allan Chernoff, some people he was able to speak to, people who were close to this vehicle who reported not only seeing something in the vehicle, some materials, but actually reported hearing popping sounds and reported seeing some type of explosion as some have described it. But something actually going off inside that vehicle.

On the phone with this is Maurice Brewster and his wife were in town in Time Square and you heard something as well. Maurice, thank you for being on the phone with us. Tell us where you were and what you were able to see in here in relation to this vehicle.

MAURICE BREWSTER, WITNESS (via telephone): Well, we were walking down Broadway to head to see a Broadway musical and we had just passed the pathfinder and we decided we were going to turn back around and go to Starbucks, which is right on 45th Street.

And as we were walking in the Crosswalk, we heard a loud pop, and we turned around and we saw flames and we saw smoke filled the car quickly. We ran to the other side of the street and we fold out a camera and took a couple of shots and then we moved quickly down away from the vehicle not knowing if it was going to explode.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: That's one of the - Maurice, this is one of the first times we've really heard someone report fire and a major explosion. I think one of the vendors that reported some sort of explosion and he said some people had been - you could have heard it I guess blocks away. What was the immediate response?

So this happens, you see this car, you're headed to Starbucks and you see this sort of explosion, what was the immediate response in the area right around there?

BREWSTER: Well, there was a little concern. There was, of course, people running just to get to safety and not knowing what the explosion, why the explosion happened, but when you started seeing flames in the back of a car and smoke filled it quickly, you know, you start wondering, you know, is this another attack? Is it just lunatic trying to, you know, get that 15-minutes of fame or is this, you know - or is this just a mistake, something happened with the car.

The police were right on the scene though, and it was amazing how quickly the firefighters were there, which kind of goes - which makes sense what - from what I've heard about what the mayor said, I guess there was someone else who had reported that smoke before. But we walked right pass the pathfinder and no one was telling us to move away from it so I know when we heard the pop and we saw the fire, it was (inaudible) because no one was keeping us away from that vehicle.

BALDWIN: I think it was a news to a lot of us and I just want to commend you for your reaction of immediately snapping pictures. That is precisely I'm sure what police would have wanted you to do as they will be combing through so many different pictures and videos, surveillance videos from that area and immediately what I heard you say that, I thought, hey, can you e-mail them to us, but you can't because police took your camera, correct?

BREWSTER: Well, no, they took the camera and they took the three pictures that we took. Because we took two pictures of the pathfinder, we were literally 10 feet away from the car. The first picture that we took, we were just shooting sightseeing shots and it just so happened that the one shot that we took was the one shot facing the Bank of America building headed southbound on Broadway.

So they took those three shots and they held us for four hours because they were evaluating the pictures and seeing if they could enhance the photos to see if anything that we had on our camera would help them. Eventually, they gave us the camera back and they were kind enough to put us in squad car and take us back to our hotel.

HOLMES: Yes, I was going to add - where you in from? You've been in New York? BREWSTER: Well, I'm an original New Yorker, but my father died and we were in for a funeral, my father's funeral, and so we're heading back to California.

HOLMES: Well, you got a long good trip heading back to beautiful (inaudible), but sir, you talked about going pass this car. You said some other people had reported - apparently had called - and said it was suspicious. But when you initially walked pass it before you heard the pop, was there anything suspicious about the vehicle, anything that stood out that got your attention?

BREWSTER: Nothing that I know, because like I said, we walked - we walked pass the vehicle twice before we heard the explosion. One time when we were, again, walking past just to continue to sightsee and then when we turned around to make the decision to go down 45th Street or actually say across 45th Street to go to the Starbucks right by the Marriot Marti and that's when we were in the crosswalk and heard the pop and the explosion.

BALDWIN: All right, Maurice Brewster, thank you for your account. I guess it was sort of serendipitous that you were in front of that - that car, got those pictures, glad you're safe. Thank you for calling us and safe travel to California.

BREWSTER: Thank you very much.

HOLMES: All right, to our - again, our international viewers who are with us and our domestic viewers, a lot of people are starting to quite frankly wake up across this country and went to bed last night not having any idea what was going on in New York.

An interesting night in New York, a scary night in New York and it could be a scary time for that city moving forward depending on what comes of an investigation that is now underway after a car with what is described by the police chief and the mayor of New York as a car bomb found on the streets of Time Square.

Of all places, you just heard Maurice Brewster there. He is one of several witnesses we've been able to found who described some kind of explosion, a pop of some kind in this vehicle. And he even described flames in that vehicle, but what was inside, three propane tanks, two five-gallon tanks of gasoline, clocks, electrical wire. Also, consumer-grade fireworks is how it's described as well.

That stuff now all being taken out into - going to be going over with a fine-tooth comb by those investigators, those forensic investigators. But right now, no one in custody, no idea who might have done this. Why they did this? No connection yet to international terrorism is what we're being told and quite frankly no real explanations were exactly what was going on, but a scary, scary night.

And a scary situation for Times Square, which as you see in this picture, is like we are not used to seeing it. No foot traffic. No vehicle traffic. Shutdown right now and shutdown until the foreseeable future as this vehicle is still there on the streets, has not been removed just yet.

BALDWIN: I want to turn back the clock a couple of hours and get you to the first bit of official comment we have from the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg and also the Police Chief Commissioner, Ray Kelly. They held a news conference just about three hours ago. I want to play it for you in its entirety. They talked about how this whole thing unfolded.



MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY: Well, good morning. I'm joined by Governor Paterson and City Councilor Speaker Christine Quinn, Police Commissioner Kelly, Fire Commissioner Casano, FTNY Chief Department, Ed Caldiff, FBI Assistance Special Agent in Charge, Steven Bookart, Chief of Department, Joe Estizedo, Chief of Detective, Phil Polaski, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence, David Cohen, Bomb Squad Commanding Officer Mark Torey, and Officer of Emergency Management Deputy Commission, John Scruvani.

Before I begin, let me say that we are very lucky. Thanks to alert New Yorkers and professional police officers, we avoided what could have been a very deadly event. I'm going to begin by telling what we know and what we don't know.

At about 6:30 this last night, an alert T-shirt vendor who is a Vietnam veteran noticed an unoccupied suspicious vehicle on 45th Street just off 7th Ave. He alerted Police officer Wayne Rhatigan of the NYPD Mounted Unit who was on his horse Migs patrolling Times Square. Officer Rhatigan saw the vehicle, a Nissan Pathfinder, which had smoke emerging form vents near the backseat and he also smelled gunpowder.

He with the help of police officers assigned to Operation Impact immediately evacuated the area and called for the fire department and more police. Firefighters, emergency service officers and the bomb squad responded, and the bomb squad confirmed that this suspicious did indeed contain an explosive device.

They were gas cans and bomb making materials in the car. The experts at the bomb squad are removing them as we speak

Who abandoned the car and why are under investigation by the NYPD. Commissioner Kelly will fill you in on the details, but I want to thank the professionals at the NYPD and the FBI as well as the Fire Department and the Officer Emergency Management for their work tonight. But most of all, the alert vendor and Officer Rhatigan of the Mounted Unit.

You know we often say that when a terrorist is caught, he has a map of New York City in his pocket. And that's a conversation I had earlier tonight in Washington and tonight is a further reminder of the dangers we face. Commissioner Kelly.

Thank you, Mr. Mayor. The NYPD Bomb Squad has rendered safe an improvised car bomb discovered earlier this evening, inside a dark green Nissan Pathfinder parked on 45th Street and Broadway with its engine running and hazard lights flashing.

NYPD bomb technicians have removed and dismantled three propane tanks, consumer-grade fireworks, two five-gallon gasoline containers, filled, and two clocks, along with batteries in each of the clocks, electrical wire and other components stored in the rear of the vehicle.

In addition, a two by two by four foot locked metal box resembling a gun locker has been recovered from the vehicle. The bomb squad is in the process of rendering it safe. It will be removed to our range at Rodman's Neck in the Bronx for detonation.

At approximately this evening as the mayor said, NYPD Mounted Officer was notified by a street vendor of a possible car fire, smoking vehicle and went to investigate. After observing white smoke billowing inside and coming out of the rear of the vehicle, he and two Impact police officers who are in patrol in the area began to clear pedestrians from the vicinity while radioing for further assistance.

Visual examination of the vehicle by responding agencies, the Fire Department and Police Department revealed suspicious-looking components in the rear of the vehicle. It has tinted windows and was parked approximately 10 feet from the corner on 45th Street in front of the Bank of America. The Connecticut license plate on the rear of the vehicle does not match the vehicle, and investigators have spoken to the individual to whom the plates are registered.

The vehicle is seen at 6:28 pm on NYPD surveillance camera traveling west on 45th Street. We're in the process of identifying additional cameras, which may have captured images of the vehicle, and more important, people seen driving or leaving the vehicle.

NYPD, FBI and authorities are - other authorities are actively pursuing all investigative means at this time and we encourage anyone with information to call our Tips Hotline, that's 1-800-577-TIPS. From 43rd Street to 48th Street between 6th and 8th Avenues are closed at this time to pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

We expect that they will be reopened soon and we certainly appreciate the public's cooperation. We did evacuate the south tower of the Marriot Hotel. Those people are in the auditorium in the hotel and we hope to have them get back in their rooms shortly.


BALDWIN: All right, well, it is looking like they are putting this green Nissan Pathfinder onto the back of this police tow truck presumably to take off and take a closer look at this thing. This is the car that we have been talking about that was parked at Times Square at 45th and 7th right around 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time, Saturday evening.

It was within this car that initially that T-shirt vendor has spotted some kind of white smoke emanating from that. Got over to a New York City police officer and they took a closer look and that is when they called police, and that is when they brought this robot in to try to take this thing apart.

They found inside this Pathfinder, again to reiterate, here's what they found three propane tanks, two gasoline containers, batteries, consumer-grade fireworks and a locked metal box that resemble a gun locker.

Again, just heard the mayor of New York saying the wiring around the device is nothing but amateurish. Again, live pictures coming in from New York as we continue this conversation, this breaking story. Still the big question, who did this and why, that has not been answered and it will likely not be answered for some time to come.

HOLMES: That is a precious, precious commodity right now and sitting next to me is - so I'm going to ahead and bring you in, he's a former FBI agent, Harold Copus. We're getting to get the camera adjusted, but we got your mic on and we'll be able to hear you nothing else, but we will keep live picture up.

But just how crucial that piece of evidence is right there. That is a very precious piece of evidence right now because whoever set this up expected this thing to explode. Expected all of any evidence fingerprints and otherwise would be destroyed. So the plan didn't work. That is - they're going to get us to try (inaudible) right there.

HAROLD COPUS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: They're certainly are and starting with that vehicle we can run the VIN. I suspect that one of two things. It's either belong to someone and stolen or it was a rental. The game is over for the guys that went in on the strike team.

HOLMES: On that point, the mayor did say that the VIN number wasn't on this particular vehicle. How complicated does that make the investigation now?

COPUS: Not very complicated at all. There are about 10 or 12 other VIN numbers on there so you might get rid of the one on the dash. There's so many more on there. It won't make any difference.

HOLMES: It won't make any difference. Where do you start? Where would you start with this vehicle?

COPUS: I have about (78) things I would do. First thing I do is, once that thing has towed in, I'd have it so much dust on it. You think you were in that in Iceland with (ash) looking for prints in and out. Second thing I'd do is I'll be checking the car out. More important, I've start looking at these propane gas containers, looking at the gasoline containers, looking at the fireworks even checking out this "metal box." Somewhere along the way, you're going to be able to trace something there once you start to trace in your own trail.

HOLMES: They're covering up the vehicle now. Just keeping our viewers updated about what you're seeing and there it goes, that valuable piece of evidence, the vehicle that contained all these bomb making materials that did not go off luckily, but (inaudible) scare in Times Square this evening.

And you were saying to us as well just a moment ago about the timing is so critical. What does it say to you that this vehicle positive was spotted driving just blocks away, maybe 10 minutes before the call came in about a suspicious vehicle parked down there.

So maybe the window of time between what, maybe 10 minutes from the time it was parked to about the time it started sparking and exploding a little bit inside, just how important is the timing for you of how this will end up?

COPUS: Well, I'd like to know how long that vehicle had been there? Has it been parked there for 30 minutes, an hour or 10 minutes? Based on that timeline, I can trace it backwards with the cameras that they have all over New York, and I can start trailing that car. That's the reason I'd like to know about the time.

HOLMES: What is it tell you when you hear this collection of materials propane tanks, gasoline tanks, clocks, electrical wires, consumer-grade firework, you put all that together and you get what?

COPUS: Well, obviously you got a terrorist and my first reaction is it's going to be foreign not domestic.

HOLMES: Why is that?

COPUS: Well, most domestic guys, what they're going to do, is they're going to go after that other symbol that we see in America. That's going to be a federal building, something of that nature. These guys were going after two things, psychological damage and collateral damage.

They've achieved the psychological and collateral they did, but the bomb didn't go off. My reaction is that these guys are trying to make New York (inaudible).

HOLMES: So it's actually the target and not necessarily the technique that makes you think this is international terrorist, that's an interesting point you're making in.

COPUS: Well, it's pure speculation. We don't have anything to go yet, but that's my first reaction. Domestic guys are in through a lot of things, but just taking that normal civilians here in the United States is not what they're trying to do.

BALDWIN: And Harold when we were talking earlier, I thought it was interesting when we talked about what was found inside of this car, and we talked about a triggering device that obviously didn't work. You said if you were (inaudible) you said that this is probably the first bomb that this individual made.

COPUS: Certainly because it didn't ignite, which is a clue that he didn't look through all his manuals of how to set this thing off, something happened and you know, you really didn't get to practice. You get to do one shot at this, he took his shot and he lost. This guy is already running and I would say this is probably a member of what we call a strike team.

His job was to go in, set it, and disappear. It's heavily financed by somebody and there are a lot of people involve. This guy from Times Square as you know, it doesn't take much to get out of town from there. You can go to either Grand Central down to Finn Station, he's out.

BALDWIN: So you say, long gone.

COPUS: I say he's -

BALDWIN: -- member perhaps of a much larger team of people who financed it who - they were hoping to execute it and now take it in, taken a closer look, didn't work.

COPUS: Sure, well, what happens is that. You're putting a lot of pressure on one person. I've got to go either in or steal a vehicle, steal a tag - put that - you got a stolen tag. I never put the original tag on it. If people get suspicious, at least I have a tag - making hard to check me out initially. You know, a lot of things here has to go on. It makes you think it's heavily organized and a lot of people were involved.

HOLMES: Well, on that point, they kept the calling the bomb itself or the mayor did, calling it amateur as the way it was put together, but there are still some sense of sophistication in putting this together. One guy just not going to go out and put all this stuff together, it takes a little bit of expertise.

So the other one who gave, whoever this might have been too much credit, but there's a little more sophistication into this operation.

COPUS: Certainly and if you look back at the London bombings, a lot of those were propane tanks so it is standard. So it all has the earmarks of somebody that maybe it's his first bomb, but the technique is not the first time. It's already been used.


COPUS: Certainly, you keep tracing them back.

BALDWIN: Harold Copus, we want to keep you sitting here with us on set here in Atlanta, former FBI special agent. Amazing wealth of knowledge for us so stay put.

But we want you to turn back to the scene on the ground with our own Allan Chernoff. He's been working it for us and Allan, if you could hear me, bring us up to speed, what do you know?

CHERNOFF: Right, well, you're looking at our picture right now and you see on the flatbed truck, the vehicle has just been put on the flatbed truck and it's been covered with a yellow tarp. So we can actually see the vehicle right now, but it is inside of that yellow tarp and before too long, we expect that they'll be towing it away.

Probably we would think taking it up to the Bronx as well to the bomb squad facility where already the material that had been in the back seat of the vehicle was taken earlier this morning. So this will be pretty much the final step in terms of getting rid of any remainder of what caused the problem in the very first place.

And they'll be able to open 45th Street. The other cross streets are already open, 7th Avenue is open as well. Remember last night, Times Square was entirely evacuated and now we're pretty much close to getting that vehicle out of 45th Street, out of Times Square.

HOLMES: Allan, can you tell us what is in the immediate vicinity around this vehicle, where it was parked exactly which shop, which restaurant, which hotel even where the immediate around this car?

CHERNOFF: Yes, the vehicle actually was parked in just south of the Marriot Marquis Hotel. Most tourists who have come to New York will be familiar with that hotel, smacked right in the middle of Times Square, right next to a building that houses the corporate headquarters for Viacom, and there's the show "The Lion King" in one of the theaters that's right next to where that vehicle is parked.

And by the way, there are several other Broadway theaters on this street including the theater , the Golden Theater that has "Red," the Jacobs Theater that has "God of Carnage." So this was a packed street last night, packed with tourists, packed with theater goers. You know, it's Saturday night, very busy in New York, in Times Square.

BALDWIN: Allan, who had been working in New York for years and years, curios, have you ever been to this Bronx facility where they're taking this vehicle, and where they're taking the bits and pieces of presumably it was intended to be a bomb? What sort of investigations do they typically handle?

CHERNOFF: Well, no I have not been to that facility, but as a matter of fact, the bomb squad here in New York, you know, they tend to be busy sometimes. Think back to December, we had a vehicle parked again in the middle of Times Square. Times Square was cleared out for several hours. The police went in. The bomb squad sent the robot in.

What they found was just a bunch of clothing in the back of this van. So that turned out to be a total false alarm, but this one was not. Not only were there some explosives in the back of this Nissan Pathfinder, but indeed eye witnesses told us that there was an explosion. They saw flame. They saw smoke and a big pop that scared people on the street, on 45th Street. Unfortunately, the police were on the scene very quickly, the area evacuated and now the investigation goes on.

HOLMES: And our international viewers and again, our viewers here in the U.S., you're seeing a live picture of Times Square starting to get daylight there in New York now and daylight on the East Coast 6:00 Eastern Time we're coming up on.

But under that yellow tarp there is the vehicle that caused this whole scare. The vehicle that was packed with those bomb making materials. Allan Chernoff, tell us - we talked to a man by the name of Maurice Brewster a short time ago, who was another eye witness up there.

And he described hearing that pop that startled him and he turned around, and he actually saw from a few feet away, of flames inside the vehicle. How is that consistent with some of the eye witness accounts you were able to get up there as well.

CHERNOFF: That is consistent. Rallis Jialabokis (ph) who is a hotdog vendor who's been on that corner for 20 years told me the same thing. He saw white smoke inside of the vehicle as much as he could see by the way. The windows were tinted so it's not easy I think for them to see the smoke inside the vehicle, but they say white smoke coming out. They heard an explosion.

His partner, Hamid Odali (ph), another hotdog vendor also described several explosions. He said the explosion seemed to go on for several minutes the way a bunch of fire crackers would explode. And so it's very possible what happened inside of that vehicle was that the fire crackers that the police have told us were in the vehicle, that the fire crackers were all going off. We don't know whether the detonator device actually worked.

There were two clocks in there, electrical wire and then of course, the gasoline and the propane tanks. Now whether or not those were involved, it doesn't seem that those actually were involved in any of the explosion. And as you see right now, the vehicle is, well, beginning to move out and should be coming our way in a matter of minutes.

BALDWIN: And Allan, another piece of the story, which I think you put so well. You said, I think - is this where to be in any intersection, in terms of surveillance cameras, cameras, red light cameras, you know, this is the place to be to get this thing caught on camera and as we watch this vehicle move away, I just want to make that point again.

Because this is such a - not only is the car critical piece of evidence, but the surveillance video of hopefully an individual either getting in or getting out of that car will prove critical in this investigation.

CHERNOFF: Yes, indeed. As the flatbed is taking the vehicle off of 45th Street, it will pass itself several surveillance cameras. There's one right here at the corner of 8th Avenue and 45th Street. So this place is packed with cameras and there's a very good chance that this vehicle that we're seeing pass us right now was captured on some of those surveillance cameras. You see it's wrapped up not only with yellow tarp but also wrapped with police tape as well and now it's going uptown up 8th Avenue. So 45th Street is now cleared out.

HOLMES: Now cleared out and we can only hope, and we're starting to look at this other live picture we can switch to now. It seems like almost immediately after we're starting to see traffic on some of the streets down there in Times Square.

Just as you predicted quite frankly, Allan Chernoff, that maybe as soon as this last element was taken out of Times Square then maybe they would reopen. Starting to see a few cabs on the street as well, but just a few more cabs so maybe traffic is going to be opened up again.

Allan, you standby, we're going to check in with you again.

At the top of the hour, we need to reset with our viewers, 6:00 here Eastern Time in the U.S. Welcome to everyone, and welcome to our international viewers as well.

I'm T.J. Holmes alongside Brooke Baldwin this morning covering breaking the news out of New York City where Times Square has been shutdown for the past 12 hours after what has been described as a car bomb was found there about 6:30 last evening.

According to police, they were alerted by a vendor, a street vendor, a man who was out there selling T-shirts who happen to be a Vietnam veteran saw something suspicious, told police about it, they called it in and in fact, they found propane tanks, five-gallon gasoline containers, and fireworks. They found clocks, electrical wire, all of this stuff in this vehicle.

Several witnesses now described hearing a pop and also seeing, according to one witness, flames coming out of the vehicle or in the back of the vehicle as well. Who left it there and why? We do not know.