The New York police on Sunday defused a car bomb in the heart of New York's famous tourist hub of Times Square after evacuating thousands of visitors, residents and theatre-goers from the area, averting what could have been a "very deadly event" in the US.
Traffic was stopped and redirected to the surrounding areas as police closed down a section of Times Square after a foot patrol officer spotted a parked Sports Utility Vehicle identified as a Nissan Pathfinder around 6:30 pm last evening (4:00 am ISI today).
The officer noticed a box inside the vehicle with smoke coming out of it. The car parked in a crowded area was later found to be loaded with a bomb made of electrical components, three propane gas tanks and two additional gas canisters.
Soon after hotels, shops and restaurants in and around the Times Square were shut down and thousands of people, including tourists, residents and theatre-goers, evacuated from the area.
"We are very lucky... (to) avoid what could have been a very deadly event," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a hurriedly-organised press conference. "The bomb squad confirmed that the suspicious vehicle indeed did contain an explosive device."
He said the bomb was homemade and "looked amateurish."
Earlier, Deputy Commissioner Paul J Browne, Police Department's chief spokesman, was quoted as saying by the 'New York Times' that "it appears to be a car bomb left in a Pathfinder between Seventh and Eighth" Avenues on 45th Street.
The device, he said, contained "explosive elements" that included "propane tanks, some kind of powder, gasoline and a timing device."
"This is very much an active investigation," he was quoted as saying. A bomb squad was sent to the scene but the package did not explode.
Police blocked the area from West 43rd to 47th streets along Broadway and Seventh Avenue with metal railings.
Parts of 48th Street were also closed.
"We haven't identified any kind of a motive," Browne said, adding no one was in custody. President Obama commended the "excellent work" of the New York Police Department (NYPD) for defusing the "bomb crisis" at Times Square.
"At about 1045 pm (local time), the President was updated on the excellent work by the NYPD in relation to the incident in Times Square," White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said in a late night statement.
The President was briefed by the national security aide after he returned from annual dinner of the White House Correspondents Association in Washington.
Obama "commended the quick action" by the NYPD and asked John Brennan, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism, to communicate to the New York Police Department that the federal government is prepared to provide support.
"John Brennan, working with the NYPD and others, will continue to keep the President up to date on the investigation," Shapiro said.
The explosive materials were discovered by a mounted police officer who saw a box with smoke pouring from it in the back of the Pathfinder, Browne was quoted as saying by The New York Times. The officer called for backup, and the Fire Department and bomb squad.
The vehicle's back window was broken out, Browne said, adding police sent in a "robotic device" to "observe it."
Browne said gunpowder had been found in the vehicle, but not a high-grade explosive. The timing device was a clock attached to wires. The gasoline was in two five-gallon cans and there appeared to be three propane tanks, like those used for barbecue grills, the paper reported.
Security is always on high alert around Times Square, which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Soon after the evacuation of people from buildings and streets, heavily-equipped police patrolled the area.
Besides, the NYPD, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was pressed into service as part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
There were also reports of a man been seeing fleeing the area.
The department of homeland security said that it was monitoring the developments.
In December, a bomb scare led the city's explosives detonation squad to investigate an unmarked white van, which was parked in the area causing the NYPD to cordon off a large section of the region. After two hours, the police department called it safe.
Image: A police officer in bomb suit examines the Nissan Pathfinder sport utility vehicle parked in New York's Times Square on Sunday. The incident created a major scare across the US.