October 27, 2007 — The Mexican consulate in Midtown was rocked by blasts from two hollowed-out grenades early yesterday – an attack strikingly similar to explosions outside the British consulate two years ago.
There were a few workers in the building at the time, but nobody was hurt in the 3:30 a.m. explosions, which shattered three windows on the first and second floors of the compound at 27 E. 39th St.
Those workers were unaware of what happened, and police weren’t called until three hours later, when the damage was noticed by other employees arriving for work.
“It was very loud,” said Clare Mare, who lives on the 10th floor of a nearby building. “I couldn’t see anything. I thought it was just another [steam] pipe explosion.”
Police described the devices as training grenades filled with black powder and a charge.
They are “exactly the same type” of grenades that were used in May 2005 on Third Avenue near East 52nd Street, said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
As with the 2005 incident, a man was seen fleeing on bicycle after this morning’s attack.
A police official said the NYPD did a lot of work to identify the bicyclist from 2005, but failed.
“Any time there an investigation like this, the intelligence division wants to make sure it is not part of a series,” the official said.
The two grenades were said to be types that are readily available online, Kelly said. One of them is made of a smooth material and the other is pineapple-like.
Kelly said there is no apparent motive for targeting the Mexican consulate.
The same problem of finding a motive plagued probers back in 2005. Although the British Consulate was housed in the damaged building, it was never confirmed to be the target.
“There doesn’t appear to be any phone calls or letters sent related to this event,” Kelly said.
NYPD investigators were working with agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the State Department, officials said.
Consul General Ramon Xilotl said: “I think the consulate is a friendly office of another government and we are here to deliver services to the Mexican community. I think it makes no sense to attack the building of a consulate.”
The 2005 incident happened on Britain’s election day, when tensions were high over Prime Minister Tony Blair’s bid for a third term. Blair was facing sharp criticism for his country’s role in the Iraq war.
Yesterday’s incident, meanwhile, comes a day before the one-year anniversary of New York-based photographer Bradley Will being gunned down while covering civil unrest in Oaxaca.
The Mexican government said he got caught in crossfire, but many were skeptical, and the death led to several protests at Mexican consulates throughout the United States.
The East 39th Street consulate that was hit yesterday was the scene of a large uprising last Oct. 30 – three days after Will’s death – when a dozen demonstrators stormed the building.
They were all arrested.
Xilotl said the anniversary is being eyed as one possible motive.