Police in New York issued a surveillance image of the Nissan sports utility vehicle (right) believed to be at the centre of the Times Square bomb plot. The picture was taken the evening before Saturday's drama.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police chief Raymond Kelly said at a news conference that they were looking for an unidentified white man spotted behaving "furtively" near the square, which was evacuated.
The security alert was triggered when a street vendor saw smoke coming from the black Nissan Pathfinder parked on 45th Street.
Police say propane tanks, fireworks and a timing device were removed from a parked SUV.
Crowds of people lined the perimeter of the cordoned-off area and several Broadway shows were disrupted.
President Barack Obama has praised the quick response by the New York Police Department.
Several blocks of New York's busiest tourist attractions, as well as subway lines were shut down by police while a robotic arm broke windows of the vehicle.
Police chief Raymond Kelly told a news conference the bomb could have sparked a "significant fireball". Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city had "avoided what could have been a very deadly event".
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