Letters sent to Capitol Hill in NYC blast

March 18, 2008 6:41:44 AM PDT
Police are investigating letters that arrived Thursday at Capitol Hill offices containing a photo of the Times Square military recruiting office before it was bombed and including the claim "We Did It."The manila envelopes contained a photo of a man standing in front of the recruiting station, according to a Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is under investigation. The photo was the kind commonly sent as a holiday greeting card.

The message on the card: "Happy New Year, We Did It."

The envelope also contained a packet of approximately 10 sheets of paper that seemed to be a political manifesto railing against the Iraq war and a booklet. The aide didn't know what the booklet was.

In the bombing, someone riding a bike and armed with small explosives struck in Manhattan Thursday.

It was the third inciding with similar characteristics, and this time the target was the highest-profile location by far: a military recruitment station in the heart of Times Square.

The bomb, contained in a metal ammunition box, produced a sudden flash and billowing cloud of white smoke at about 3:40 a.m. Thursday - a scene captured by numerous security video cameras. When the smoke cleared, there were no injuries, serious damage nor clear indication of motive.

Police released footage from a private security camera showing the cyclist riding up to the military recruiting station. He is seen getting off the 10-speed bike, with the blast occurring one minute later.

Police say they later found the bike in the trash.

No one was hurt hurt in the incident, which happened at West 43rd Street. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the device, though unsophisticated, could have caused injury and even death.

Mayor Bloomberg held a news conference in Times Square just before 9:30 a.m.

"The fact that this appears deliberately aimed," at the military recruiting station, "insults every one of our brave uniformed men and women around the world," he said.

The mayor said he wanted people around the country and the world to know that Times Square was back in business and that people were again working, shopping and enjoying the city. He added that they are not intimidated.

The mayor said the city won't let terrorists threaten their ability to enjoy the greatest city in the world.

"If it is something that is directed toward American troops, then it's something that's taken very seriously and is pretty unfortunate," he said.

Kelly held up a similar green metal box and said that the "low-order device" used in the explosion can be purchased in any Army-Navy store.

Kelly also asked anyone with information to call the TIPS hotline: 1-800-577-TIPS.

According to an eyewitness, the man on a bicycle was believed to have thrown the device at the building, causing minimal damage. The bicyclist, described as wearing all gray and a gray hood, rode away. Several bicyclists were stopped in the nearby area, but no arrests were made.

Police were examining numerous security videotapes from the area.

Witnesses and tourists staying at the nearby Marriott Marquis reported hearing a loud bang.

Terry Leighton, 49, from London, England, said he was on the 21st floor of the hotel when he heard the blast and looked out a window.

"I thought it could have been thunder," he said. "I looked down and there was a massive plume of smoke. So I knew it was an explosion."

Darla Teck, 25, was on the 44th floor of the hotel.

"There was a big bang," she said "I felt it."

Police quickly closed off Times Square to traffic as they investigated.

Subway service was initially halted through the area, and then bypassed the Times Square station. It was restored for the morning commute.

The center is normally staffed by two noncommissioned officers but was empty at the time of the explosion, said Captain Charlie Jaquillard, the commander of army recruiting operations in Manhattan.

The recruiting station is the site of regular anti-war protests, held since the start of the Iraq war in 2003. In October 2005 a group of activists who call themselves the Granny Peace Brigade rallied there against the Iraq war. Eighteen activists, most of them grandmothers with several in their 80s and 90s, were later acquitted of disorderly conduct.

The 520-square-foot station reopened in 1999 after a redesign. It is is decorated with 33-by-14-foot flags rendered in fluorescent lights. The interior contains space for Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine recruiters and one bathroom. It has set national records for enlistment, averaging about 10,000 volunteers a year.

Similar Incidents

Authorities say the incident mirrors previous attacks on British and Mexican consulates in New York City in 2005 and 2007.

In all of the cases, the explosions took place in the early morning hours, the suspect was on a bike and no one was injured.

For now, Mayor Bloomberg is only giving the most basic comparisons.

"At the moment, all we know is that it's a similar kind of thing," he said. "A small bomb, a small explosive device going off outside of building, when nobody happened to see the perpetrator."

The Mexican Consulate on East 39th Street was hit back in October of 2007.

In that case, two dummy hand grenades were fashioned into crude bombs. A front window was shattered.

There was another incident similar to this case back in 2005 at the British Consulate on 3rd Avenue. It was also a morning blast when no one was at work. Fake grenades were used in that incident as well.

"Here, it may be similar powder, we still have to determine that. But it was placed in an ammunition box," Kelly said of Thursday's incident. "That was the carrier for the explosive. There was no grenade."