Bomb squad: Doesn't matter if Times Square device was simple or complex, it could have killed

NEW YORK (AP) — To the police department's bomb squad, it didn't matter if the device inside a parked sport utility vehicle in Times Square was simple or sophisticated — it still had the potential to kill.

Perhaps no other emergency responders were in as much peril as the bomb squad, as its members worked for more than five hours to defuse the propane-and-gasoline bomb on one of America's busiest streets.

"Everyone there is in some varying degree of mortal danger," said Lt. Mark Torre, the commanding officer of the squad, whose members gathered Wednesday at their headquarters in Manhattan's Greenwich Village neighborhood, where plaques in the lobby commemorate officers killed in the line of duty.

Squad members, who lost a colleague on Sept. 11, 2001, wore hulking, explosives-resistant suits as they examined and defused the device in the SUV on Saturday night. Another member, Detective Pat LaScala, piloted a robot.

Detective Raymond Clair, one of the bomb squad's longest-serving members, was among the first to respond.

"We ended up shooting out the windows of the van with the robot," Clair said, "and I suited up and went down and took a look inside, and I observed what I believed to be cans of gas, wires and some type of electrical components."

He said he walked back to his sergeant and reported that he believed they were dealing with a bomb.

Police later said the bomb, which had cheap-looking alarm clocks connected to a can filled with fireworks apparently intended to detonate gas cans and propane tanks, could have produced "a significant fireball" and sprayed shrapnel with enough force to kill pedestrians.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police Commissioner Raymond Kelly on Wednesday thanked the squad members for their actions in defusing the bomb and keeping the city safe.

After a short meeting with the officers, Bloomberg said they had to leave for a hearing in Washington, D.C., where he said he would seek additional homeland security funds to pay for the police department's technology and training.

Authorities say suspect Faisal Shahzad drove into Times Square on Saturday night and parked the SUV, packed with bomb materials, amid tourists and Broadway theatergoers, with the intent to kill.

Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan who lived in Connecticut, was arrested on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction charges after being hauled off a Dubai-bound plane he boarded Monday night at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Kifyat Ali, a cousin of Shahzad's father, has called the arrest "a conspiracy."

The bomb squad initially received a call about 6:55 p.m., and a first crew, led by Sgt. John Ryan and Clair, arrived a few minutes later at West 45th Street and Broadway, where the SUV was parked near restaurants and theaters, including one showing "The Lion King," Torre said.

A second team, including Detectives Jay Hallik and Greg Abbate, was called in to help pull the contents of the vehicle out and to X-ray them, Clair and Ryan said.

"Once we secured it and pulled everything away, the stuff that was bad, then we rendered it safe," Clair said. "That was it."

Kevin Barry, a retired member of the bomb squad and a spokesman for the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators, said the squad went "by the numbers" in defusing the bomb.

"If it wasn't a real event, it probably would have been the greatest training event ever created," he said.

But he said the squad got lucky, too.

"The bomber made a mistake in his construction," Barry said. "Thank goodness."

The New York Police Department bomb squad, the oldest in the country, was formed in 1903 in response to a spate of mail bombs used by the mob and sent to Italian immigrants. Since then, it has investigated bombings by domestic and foreign terrorists, including the 1993 World Trade Center attack, in which Islamic extremists exploded a rented van loaded with fertilizer in a parking garage, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000 others.

Police declined to say how many officers are currently members of the squad.