NEW YORK — Police combed through a charred sport utility vehicle and a crude assortment of explosives Sunday for clues to a failed bombing in Times Square – a major tourist destination – as a monitoring group reported that the Pakistani Taliban had claimed responsibility for the terrorist threat.

An intelligence monitoring group released a one-minute video allegedly from the Pakistani Taliban, in which it claimed responsibility for the failed bombing in a smoking SUV left parked in the city Saturday night, clearing thousands of tourists and theatergoers from the city’s busiest district.

The U.S.-based SITE intelligence group, which monitors militant websites, said the Pakistani Taliban claims the attack is revenge for the death of its leader Baitullah Mehsud and the recent killings of the top leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq. Images of the slain militants are shown as an unidentified voice recites the message. English subtitles are at the bottom of the screen.

New York authorities were examining the SUV at a forensic lab for fingerprints and DNA evidence and had isolated a 200-pound gun locker at a police firing range in the Bronx.

They were trying to determine whether the locker, recovered from the SUV, could contain more powerful explosives that could have detonated the main explosive device.

The bomb, which partly detonated but malfunctioned, could have sprayed shrapnel that killed pedestrians in the immediate vicinity, top NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.

“We avoided what could have been a very deadly event,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “It certainly could have exploded and had a pretty big fire and a decent amount of explosive impact.”

Bloomberg called the explosive device “amateurish” but potentially deadly, noting: “We are very lucky.”

The NYPD bomb squad “has seen sophisticated devices before and they described this one as crude,” Browne said. “But it was nevertheless lethal.”

Thousands of tourists were cleared from the streets for 10 hours after two vendors alerted police to the suspicious vehicle, which contained three propane tanks, fireworks, two filled 5-gallon gas containers, and two clocks with batteries and electrical wire, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

No suspects were in custody. Police were going through surveillance video that showed the car driving west on 45th Street before it parked between Seventh and Eighth avenues. Police were looking for more video from office buildings that weren’t open at the time.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that officials are treating the incident as a potential terrorist attack.

A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity with the probe in its initial stage, said investigators have the vehicle identification number enabling them to trace the ownership of the SUV.

The vehicle is from the 1990s, and its ownership history involves areas of the country other than New York, said the official.

A T-shirt vendor and a handbag vendor alerted police around 6:30 p.m., the height of the dinner hour before theatergoers head to Saturday night shows.

Duane Jackson, a 58-year-old handbag vendor, said he noticed the car around 6:30 p.m. and wondered who had left it there.

He said Sunday he looked in the car and saw keys in the ignition with 19 or 20 keys on a ring.
Jackson said he alerted a passing mounted police officer.

They were looking in the car “when the smoke started coming out and then we heard the little ‘pop pop pop’ like firecrackers going out, and that’s when everybody scattered and ran back,” he said.

Connecticut license plates on the SUV didn’t match up, and police had interviewed the Connecticut car owner, who told them he had sent the plates to a junkyard, Bloomberg said.

Top federal law enforcement and intelligence officials – Obama’s national security adviser James Jones, national intelligence director Dennis Blair, CIA chief Leon Panetta, Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder – planned to meet later Sunday regarding the bomb.

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