(Adds more from police commissioner, security video)
By Emily Chasan and Walker Simon
NEW YORK, March 6 A small explosion damaged a
U.S. military recruiting station but caused no injuries in New
York's Times Square before dawn on Thursday, triggering a
Pentagon alert for other stations across the country.
"We're treating it as if it were an incident of vandalism,"
Army spokesman Paul Boyce said at the Pentagon.
Times Square -- the normally bustling "Crossroads of the
World" with shops, restaurants, hotels, theaters and office
towers -- was largely empty when the crude bomb went off at
around 3:45 a.m. (0845 GMT).
Low-grade explosives packed in an ammunition box cracked
the recruiting station's thick glass door and twisted its metal
framing, police said. The blast also shattered a window
encasing the classic poster of Uncle Sam saying "I Want You."
In Washington, the Homeland Security Department said there
was no sign of an immediate threat to the United States from
the incident and White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said there
was no initial sign of any link to terrorism.
The Army sent a notice to its 1,650 recruiting stations
nationwide to remind recruiters to be careful, Boyce said.
New Yorkers have been on alert since al Qaeda militants
used hijacked planes to destroy the World Trade Center towers
in Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, killing more than 2,700 people.
The Twin Towers were also targeted in 1993 by a truck bomb that
killed six people.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly showed reporters a security
camera video of the blast and said police were looking into
similarities to small explosions at the British and Mexican
consulates in 2005 and 2007, also in the early morning hours.
The video was dark and grainy, but Kelly said it showed a
person on a bicycle approaching a traffic island, dismounting
and walking to the door of the recruiting station. The person
leaves shortly before the blast.
A witness described the suspect as "fairly large" but could
not say for sure whether it was a man or a woman, Kelly said.
TARGETS OF PROTEST
The one-story recruiting center in a traffic island in the
middle of Times Square invites people to sign up for the U.S.
armed forces and periodically attracts anti-war protesters.
The Granny Peace Brigade, an anti-war group that has
frequently held protests at the site, denounced the bombing and
disassociated itself from "mindless acts of terror."
The blast occurred before the fifth anniversary on March 19
of the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the attack was an insult to
all military personnel serving around the world.
A witness told police of a hooded person with a backpack
riding a bicycle "in a suspicious manner" in front of the
station shortly before the blast, Kelly said.
The bomb was larger than those used in the grenade attacks
on the British and Mexican consulates, Kelly said. He said it
could have caused injury or even death.
In May 2005, the British consulate in New York was attacked
by two small pre-dawn blasts from two "novelty" grenades in the
shape of a pineapple and a lemon. Last October, the same types
of grenades were used in blasts at the Mexican consulate.
In both incidents, a man was seen fleeing on a bicycle.
Kelly said he could not definitively say Thursday's blast
was linked to the two consulate attacks but it was "certainly a
possibility" given the similarity in the time of day, sighting
of a person on a bicycle and size of the blasts.
He said forensic teams would investigate whether they were
in fact linked.
Nino Reyes, 26, told Reuters he had just opened his coffee
and snack stand when he heard an explosion and saw a plume of
smoke shoot up.
(Additional reporting by Yinka Adegoke and Claudia Parsons in
New York and Tabassum Zakaria and Randall Mikkelsen in
Washington; Writing by Daniel Trotta; editing by Patricia