By AL BAKER and KARIN HENRY
The police discovered a car bomb in a smoking Nissan Pathfinder in the heart of Times Square Saturday evening, prompting the evacuation of thousands of tourists and theatergoers from the area on a warm and busy Saturday evening, the police said.
There was no explosion.
“It appears to be a car bomb left in a Pathfinder between Seventh and Eighth” Avenues on 45th Street, said Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman.
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 said.
The police would not say whether they had any suspects, and did not say if they had determined what might have been behind the event.
A federal official said it was not considered it a terrorist threat and that the New York Police Department had told the Department of Homeland Security to stand down. The official would not say why he believed that or what the New York Police Department told them about the episode.
The explosive materials were discovered about 6:30 by a mounted police officer who saw a box with smoke pouring from it in the back of the Pathfinder, Mr. Browne said. The officer called for backup, and the Fire Department and bomb squad.
The Pathfinder’s back window was broken out, Mr. Browne said, and the police sent in a “robotic device” to “observe it.”
The police began evacuating Times Square, starting with businesses along Seventh Avenue, including a Foot Locker store and a McDonald’s restaurant.
Kevin B. Barry, a former supervisor in the New York Police Department bomb squad, said he was told it was an improvised explosive device. But somehow, he said, the ignition source “failed to function the main charge.”
Mr. Barry said the material appeared to include two 20-pound cylinders of propane. If it had functioned, he speculated, “it would be more of an incendiary event” than an explosion.
Times Square on a Saturday night is one of the busiest and most populated locations in the city, and has long been seen as a likely target for some kind of attack. Upon discovering the vehicle, the police closed Broadway between at least 43rd and 46th Streets, and also appeared to close off part of Eighth Avenue.
Many people stayed to watch after being shut out of Broadway shows or prevented from getting back to their hotels, trading rumors about what was happening. It appeared that some theaters might have been evacuated. The giant Toys “R” Us store, between 44th and 45th Streets, was empty.
Onlookers crowded against the metal barricades encircling the area, taking pictures with cellphones and video cameras, although only a swarm of flashing fire trucks and police cars was visible.
Gabrielle Zecha and Taj Heniser, visiting from Seattle, had tickets to see “Next to Normal” at the Booth Theater on 45th Street but could not get into the 8 p.m. show because the area was blocked off. But they made the best of the spectacle. “It’s a whole different kind of show,” Ms. Heniser said, adding, “It’s almost the equivalent of a $150 show.”
A group of people on a high school senior trip from Jacksonville, Fla., said they were stuck for about an hour and a half in the Bubba Gump restaurant at 44th Street and Seventh Avenue.
“A lot of people were getting tense who were there longer than we were,” said Billy Wilkerson, 39, a police sergeant in Jacksonville and a chaperone for the trip. “It’s so good to get out, but it was exhilarating.”
He said he was impressed by his New York counterparts. “I just sat back and learned a lot,” he said.
Priscilla Garner, 17, said she enjoyed the experience. “I got free ice cream, they gave us crayons to color with,” she said.
Fabyane Pereira, 35, a tourist from Brazil, said the episode would not deter her from another visit. “I feel sorry for America,” she said. “I’m at your guys’ side.”
In the initial hours of the investigation, much remained unclear. The license plates on the Nissan were registered to another vehicle, the police said.
A New York City firefighter who told Reuters he arrived early on the scene said that the vehicle was smoking and that he saw “a flash” from the back of the it. “We put two and two together” and the evacuation was ordered, he said.
In December, the police closed Times Square for nearly two hours as they investigated a suspiciously parked van, delaying the rehearsal of the New Year’s ball drop. However, the van turned out to contain nothing but clothing.
Reporting was contributed by Micah Cohen, Steve Kenny and Ray Rivera in New York and Eric Lipton in Washington.