Small explosion hits New York's Times Square

A small explosion caused minor damage to a United States military recruiting centre in New York’s Times Square area in the early hours of Thursday but there were no injuries, police said.

Police said a small improvised explosive device caused minor damage to the building at about 8.45am GMT. The thick glass door was cracked and the lower part of its metal frame was twisted. The blast also shattered a window encasing the classic recruiting poster of Uncle Sam saying, “I want you.”

The explosion, which authorities said appeared to have been directed at the recruiting centre, occurred in the early hours of the morning, when there there are few people in the often bustling area in the heart of Manhattan.

The United States Homeland Security Department said there was no sign of an immediate threat to the US from the blast, and said the FBI was taking part in a probe of it.

Asked whether there were any indications the blast was terrorism-related, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said: “It doesn’t appear to be but again the investigation is still ongoing,” she said.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg said the explosion appeared aimed at the recruiting station.

“The fact that this appears deliberately targeted at the recruiting station insults every one of our brave men and women in uniform stationed around the world,” Bloomberg told a news conference in Times Square.

Police commissioner Ray Kelly said a witness had reported seeing a suspicious man on a bicycle wearing a hood and a backpack shortly before the blast.
Police were looking for any additional witnesses.

Bloomberg said no one saw the device go off and no one saw anyone plant it.

Thursday’s incident occurred days before the fifth anniversary on March 19th of the start of the US-led invasion of Iraq. US public support for the war has dropped in recent years.

The targeted building sits in a traffic island between Broadway and Seventh Avenue in Times Square, sometimes called the crossroads of the world. Anti-war protesters periodically stage demonstrations there, and the building has also been hit by vandalism in the past.

Asked if there was a link to terrorism in the incident, Homeland Security Department spokesperson Laura Keehner said the probe was still in its initial stages, but added “there is no credible information to suggest there is an imminent threat against the homeland at this time”.

Police initially closed off the streets around the busy tourist and business area, but traffic was allowed through the square three hours after the explosion. Subway train operations through Times Square station were back to normal.

New Yorkers have been sensitive about such incidents since hijacked plane attacks destroyed the World Trade Centre towers in Manhattan on September 11 2001. The Twin Towers were also targeted in 1993 by a truck bomb attack that killed six people.

Captain Charles Jaquillard, who is in charge of US Army recruiting in Manhattan and works in the centre, told Reuters at the scene that nobody was in the building when the explosion occurred.

Asked if he thought it was a terrorist attack, Jaquillard said: “I don’t know. Obviously there’s some concern, but we’ll see what the investigation will determine.”

Nino Reyes (26) said he had just opened his coffee and snack stand when he heard an explosion and saw a plume of red smoke shoot up and then turn black.

He said he saw three or four people running away.

Times Square also is the site where hundreds of thousands of revellers gather every New Year’s Eve in a celebration that has become a focus of intense police security. - Reuters

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