Authorities defused a primitive bomb inside a vacant pizzeria Monday, foiling what they described as a potentially deadly plot that might have stemmed from a landlord-tenant dispute.
Deputy Police Chief Peter Nalbach called the bomb "very rudimentary." Described as a gas can rigged with a wire, the device was set to go off if someone opened the door on the ground floor of a three-story building, police said.
"If you watched 'MacGyver' as a kid you could probably figure out how to do it," Nalbach said, referring to the 1980s TV show. "But if it had gone off, there would have been major destruction."
Nalbach said police were focusing on a man who once rented the pizzeria and may have had a legal dispute with the building's owner. Police Chief Thomas Comey said investigators were interviewing two suspects and could announce arrests later Monday.
The pizzeria sits on a block of attached homes and businesses across the street from a park that features a panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline. Police evacuated buildings up and down the block and closed off the street to traffic for several hours. By noon, traffic was allowed through and residents were back in their homes.
Police and fire units responded to the building for a report of a gas leak at about 5:30 a.m. and found the would-be bomb.
Sonia Roman, who whose ground-floor apartment opens onto a side street around the corner from the pizzeria, said she smelled a strong gas odor when she went out to get her newspaper and immediately called 911.
"It was a foul odor, it was nasty," she said. "My alarm was going off and I wasn't even cooking, so that got me thinking. I just did what anybody would do. They got here very quickly."
Roman said she walked around the corner and saw a wire sticking out from under the front door of the pizzeria.
Another neighbor, Alberto Gonzalez, said he worked occasionally at the pizzeria and said the dispute between his boss and the building owner had wound up in court, though he didn't know specific details. Gonzalez said he helped his boss move the pizza-making equipment out of the store several weeks ago.