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May 2nd, 2010

Police Comb Video, SUV for Clues in Failed Attack

No evidence Pakistani Taliban is responsible

(Left) New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly speaks about car bomb in Times Square, beside surveillance video still of dark SUV loaded with bomb (circled in red) (© Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly speaks about car bomb in Times Square (left), beside surveillance video still of dark SUV loaded with bomb (right, circled in red). (Photo credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

Reuters and The Associated Press via
May 2, 2010

NEW YORK — Police investigating a failed car bomb left in Times Square have videotape of a possible suspect shedding clothing in an alley and putting it in a bag, Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Sunday.

The surveillance video shows a white man in his 40s taking off one shirt, revealing another underneath. …

Police found the “amateurish” but potentially powerful bomb in a smoking sport utility vehicle in the busy theater district Saturday night after being alerted by two street vendors, then cleared the streets of thousands of tourists so they could dismantle it.

The SUV contained three propane tanks, fireworks, two filled 5-gallon gasoline containers and two clocks with batteries, electrical wire and other components, police said. Timers were connected to a 16-ounce can filled with fireworks that were apparently intended to set the gas cans afire, then ignite the three barbecue-grill-sized propane tanks. …

Police also found eight bags weighing more than 100 pounds of a substance that turned out to be fertilizer that was incapable of exploding.

Image: Alarm clock found in SUV
This still photo released by the New York City Police Department on Sunday shows one of the alarm clocks found in the Nissan Pathfinder that was used in the attempted attack on Times Square.

Police spokesman Paul Browne said that unlike the ammonium nitrate grade fertilizer that has been used in terror attacks including the Oklahoma City bombing, this fertilizer would not have caused a massive explosion.

Officials were treating the incident as a potential terrorist attack, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” though it was too soon to tell who is responsible. She added that investigators had no suspects but that they had recovered forensic evidence, including fingerprints, from the vehicle.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility. In a one-minute video, the group said the attack was in revenge for the death of its leader Baitullah Mehsud and the recent killings of the top leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq [links added].

Kelly said there was no evidence to support the Pakistani Taliban’s claim. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there’s no evidence the attack was linked to al-Qaida or any other large terrorist organization.

In another video released early Monday and apparently dated early April, Pakistan’s Taliban chief promised attacks on major U.S. cities, a monitoring group said. …

NYPD’s response ‘extraordinary’ (NBC Nightly News, May 2, 2010) — NBC’s Lester Holt speaks with WNBC’s Jonathan Dienst. (01:49)

A T-shirt vendor and a handbag vendor alerted police at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday, the height of dinner hour before theatergoers head to Saturday night shows. Duane Jackson, a 58-year-old handbag vendor from Buchanan, N.Y., said he noticed the car and wondered who had left it there. …

Jackson said he looked in the car and saw keys in the ignition with 19 or 20 keys on a ring. He said he alerted a passing mounted police officer. They were looking in the car “when the smoke started coming out and then we heard the little pop pop pop like firecrackers going out and that’s when everybody scattered and ran back,” he said. …

A Connecticut license plate on the vehicle did not match the SUV, according to authorities, who did not know a motive. Police interviewed the Connecticut car owner, who told police he had sent the plates to a nearby junkyard, Bloomberg said. …

Authorities had no suspects and no motive early Sunday in the latest threat to New York, where a Colorado man recently pleaded guilty to plotting an attack on the subway system.

Commissioner discusses bomb (NBC News, May 2, 2010) — New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly talks to the press about the explosive device found in an SUV in Times Square. (08:13)

Officials said the device found Saturday was crudely constructed, but Islamic militants have used propane and compressed gas for years to enhance the force of explosives. Those instances include the 1983 suicide attack on the U.S. Marines barracks at the Beirut airport that killed 241 U.S. service members, and the 2007 attack on the international airport in Glasgow, Scotland.

In 2007 the U.S. military announced that an al-Qaida front group was using propane to rig car bombs in Iraq.

London’s theater district was also the target of a propane bomb attack in 2007, which may provide clues to American investigators. …

No one was injured when police discovered two Mercedeses loaded with nails packed around canisters of propane and gasoline outside of Tiger Tiger, a popular nightclub, on June 29, 2007. …


Topical reports on this site

Oklahoma City Bombing: 15 Years (April 19, 2010)


Timeline: Key Dates in U.S. Militia Movements

Highlights from a timeline of right-wing militia actions compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes. The center says militias have resurfaced in the last few years after being below the radar for nearly a decade.

Homeland Security Wary About Reporting on Rightwing Extremism (April 17, 2010)

“By mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead.” (David Frum, prominent conservative and former speechwriter for George W. Bush, in a piece about the health-care vote titled “Waterloo.”)

Christian Militia Terror Plot (March 29, 2010)


Arrests reveal militia groups on the rise (NBC Nightly News, March 30, 2010) — The ninth member of a Michigan militia group charged with plotting to kill police officers appeared in federal court Tuesday after surrendering peacefully. The FBI says it does not expect the arrests to spark any violent reaction from other militia groups. NBC’s Pete Williams reports. (01:19)

Extremism Explodes in America (March 3, 2010)


Number of hate groups reach record level (The Dylan Ratigan Show, MSNBC, March 2, 2010) — According to a new report, militias and other extremist groups increasing 244 percent in 2009. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center and radio host Mark Williams of the Tea Party Express discuss. (08:33)

Al-Qaida Aims to Hit U.S. with WMD (Jan. 26, 2010)

Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud speaks to reporters in Mamouzi, Pakistan, in 2008. (Photo credit: AFP — Getty Images / File)

Al-Qaida’s Next High-Value Target (Jan. 18, 2010)

The White House roof in all its glory

Taliban Leader Vows Revenge (Oct. 5, 2009)

Image: New Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud
The purported new Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, left, with his comrade Waliur Rehman, front center, vow to strike back at Pakistan and the U.S. for the increasing number of drone attacks in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. (Photo credit: Ishtiaq Mehsud / AP)

White House Attack Will ‘Amaze’ (March 31, 2009)

Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, shown in a 2008 photo, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in August 2009. (Photo credit: The Washington Post / Associated Press)


5/3/10 Update

Pakistani Taliban Chief Promises U.S. Attacks

Image: File photo of Pakistan Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud with his arm around then-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud
Militant commander Hakimullah Mehsud is seen with his arm around then-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud during a news conference in South Waziristan in May 2008. Baitullah Mehsud reportedly died in a U.S. drone attack in August 2009. (Photo credit: Stringer — Pakistan / Reuters)

By Nahal Toosi and Ryan Lucas

May 3, 2010

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s Taliban chief promised attacks on major U.S. cities in a video apparently dated early April and released following the weekend’s car bomb attempt in New York City, a monitoring group said Monday. It followed reports of another video in which the group apparently tried to take credit for that attempted strike.

U.S. authorities have played down the potential connection between the Pakistani militant network and the car bomb attempt in New York’s Times Square, saying the group does not have the global infrastructure to carry out such a strike. However, the Pakistani Taliban are allied with al-Qaida and other groups, which could expand their reach.

The latest video is about nine minutes long and features Hakimullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban chief, according to IntelCenter, a U.S.-based group that monitors militant media.

Mehsud does not specifically mention New York, but says he is speaking on April 4 of this year, and promises that, “God willing, very soon in some days or a month’s time, the Muslim (community) will see the fruits of most successful attacks of our fedayeen in USA.”

“Fedayeen” usually refers to suicide bombers, which the car bomb attempt in New York did not involve.

Mehsud refutes death

Mehsud also refutes earlier Pakistani and American claims [link added; scroll down] that he died in a U.S. missile strike in January [link added; scroll down], a belief Pakistani intelligence officials recently revised.

The video follows a second, shorter clip in which the group appears to claim responsibility for the attempted car bomb, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, another monitoring organization.

In the 1 minute, 11 second video allegedly released by the Pakistani Taliban, the militant group says the attack is revenge for the death of its leader, Baitullah Mehsud, and the recent slaying of al-Qaida in Iraq leaders Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri [link added], who were killed by U.S. and Iraqi troops last month north of Baghdad.

SITE, a U.S.-based terrorist tracking organization, first uncovered the video on YouTube. The tape, which later appeared to have been removed from the website, makes no specific reference to the attack in New York, nor does it mention that the location or that it was a car bomb.

New York City’s police commissioner said there’s no evidence of a Taliban link to the failed car bomb.

In a copy of the tape provided by SITE, an unidentified voice speaking in Urdu, the primary language in Pakistan, says the group takes “full responsibility for the RECENT ATTACK IN THE USA.” The speaker says it comes in response to American “interference and terrorism in Muslim Countries, especially in Pakistan for (the) Lalmasjid operation,” a reference to the Pakistani army’s 2007 storming of the Red Mosque in Islamabad where militants were holed up inside.

The claim could not be immediately verified. But if it turns out to be genuine, it would be the first time the Pakistani Taliban has struck outside of South Asia. It has no known global infrastructure like al-Qaida. In at least one past instance, the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for an attack it played no role in. …

At the start of the video, a text in gold letters on black background celebrates the “jaw-breaking blow to Satan’s USA.” As the speaker delivers the message, images of the slain militants mentioned flash across the screen. English subtitles are provided at the bottom.

The speaker says the attack also avenges U.S. drone strikes in Pakistani tribal areas [link added] that target Taliban leaders hiding there and the “abduction, torture and humiliation” of Aafia Siddiqui.

Siddiqui is a 37-year-old Pakistani scientist who was convicted in a U.S. court in New York in February of trying to kill American service personnel after her arrest in Afghanistan in 2008. Her case has triggered anger among Pakistani extremist groups and in sections of the media.

As the message concludes, the voice calls on NATO countries — who have troops stationed in Afghanistan — to oppose “evil U.S. policies” and “sincerely apologize for the massacres in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistani tribal areas.”

The Pakistani Taliban is one of Pakistan’s largest and deadliest militant groups. It has strong links to al-Qaida and is based in the northwest close to the Afghan border. The group has carried out scores of bloody attacks inside Pakistan in recent years, mostly against Pakistani targets, but it has made no secret of its hatred toward the United States.

Last year, its then commander, Baitullah Mehsud, vowed to “amaze everyone in the world” with an attack on Washington or even the White House [link added]. But Mehsud also reportedly said his men were behind a mass shooting at the American Civic Association in Binghamton in April 2009 [link added; scroll down]. That claim turned out to be false. …


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — May 2, 2009

In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Army, a U.S. military wanted poster shows two Iraqi police officers suspected in a Feb. 24, 2009 shooting that killed a U.S. soldier and an Iraqi interpreter in Mosul, Iraq. The attack raised concerns about the level of suspected insurgent infiltration in Iraqi security forces. (Photo credit: U.S. Army / AP)

Iraq Insurgent Infiltration

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that an attacker wearing an Iraqi army uniform shot dead two U.S. soldiers outside the volatile northern city of Mosul, Iraq; provided an update of key facts, figures, and statistics on Iraq since the war began in March 2003; and reported the latest security incidents in Iraq.

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