Investigators are still sifting through the evidence left behind by Saturday's would-be car bomber, whose explosives-packed Nissan Pathfinder was discovered in New York's Times Square just as evening theater-goers converged on the district. Though the bomber's identity remains unknown, one thing is already clear: Whoever planned the attack intended to do grievous harm. Had the explosives detonated, the crude device might have killed or injured scores of innocent bystanders, and possibly many more.
It's too early to speculate whether Saturday's attack was the work of foreign terrorists, domestic malcontents or even some deadly combination of the two. New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly described the bomb's construction as "amateurish" compared to the sophisticated improvised explosive devices used by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. That, and a police description of a middle-age white male suspect videotaped leaving the scene, suggest homegrown terrorists may have been involved. On the other hand, the Pakistani Taliban reportedly took credit for the attack on an Islamist website, though New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there's no evidence to support that claim. Authorities are right to say that, for the moment, they're not ruling any possibilities out.
At this stage, the biggest lesson to emerge from the weekend's near tragedy is just how essential it is for ordinary people to be alert to possible threats. The bomb-laden vehicle was first spotted by two street vendors who noticed it was parked illegally on the street with the keys in the ignition and its hazard lights flashing. They immediately notified a mounted patrol officer, who called for backup and began evacuating the area after seeing smoke inside the car and hearing loud popping sounds authorities later determined were commercial fireworks intended to detonate the other explosives in the vehicle — two plastic containers of gasoline, a couple of propane gas tanks and a metal locker filled with up to 250 pounds of fertilizer the would-be bomber apparently thought would produce a bigger blast.