By Michael Ventura
DNAinfo Senior Editor
MANHATTAN — Federal law enforcement officials joined a police manhunt Sunday for a suspect who parked a car bomb in Times Square that forced the evacuation of thousands of people from the tourist spot Saturday night.
The unexploded bomb in a Nissan Pathfinder, parked on West 45th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues, reportedly contained propane tanks, gasoline, consumer-grade fireworks and a makeshift timer. A black metal box that appeared to be a gun locker was also recovered, according to reports.
“We are treating it as if it could be a potential terrorist attack,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told CNN Sunday morning.
She appeared on many of the morning talk shows as the nation woke up to the news of the latest thwarted terror threat in Manhattan.
No suspects were in custody Sunday afternoon.
The FBI and NYPD were searching the Pathfinder as well as checking surveillance video for clues. They were also investigating a 911 call that came in after 4 a.m. saying that the Times Square bomb was only a diversion for a larger event, the New York Times reported.
The bomb itself contained three propane tanks, similar to those used for barbecue grills, and two five gallon gasoline drums, the Times reported. The gas cans had fireworks taped around them. The fuses had been lit, but the fireworks did not explode. They did, however, start a small fire inside the Nissan, the paper said, which was spotted at roughly 6:30 p.m. by a T-Shirt vendor in Times Square who alerted police.
"I did a lap around the vehicle. The inside was smoking," Officer Wayne Rhatigan told the Daily News. "I smelled gunpowder and knew it might blow. I thought it might blow any second."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to take the officer out to dinner at Blue Fin in the W Hotel in Times Square to show that the area is safe, the Times reported.
"We are very lucky," Bloomberg said at a press conference early Sunday morning, according to the Times. "We avoided what could have been a very deadly event.”
The Pathfinder was parked outside "The Lion King," the New York Post reported.
The NYPD's bomb squad used a robot to handle the bomb. The bomb squad were working into the morning to diffuse the device.
Police searched the area for other bombs, but didn't find any. They are checking security cameras for a suspect. Initial surveillance video showed the vehicle drove west on 45th street, then parked between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, the Associated Press reported.
The street was re-opened to traffic around 6 a.m. Sunday, the AP reported.
A Connecticut license plate found on the vehicle was not registered to the car, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, according to the AP. Authorities reached the owner, who said he had sent the plates to a Connecticut junkyard, the AP reported.
Bloomberg and Kelly were in Washington DC for the White House Correspondents dinner and flew back immediately.