NEW YORK — A Dutch national employed with the U.N. weapons inspection agency has been detained for questioning in connection with Thursday’s explosions outside the British Consulate in New York, a United Nations official said.
Police said two “improvised explosive devices” made from “novelty-type grenades” exploded in front of the building that houses the consulate.
The detainee works at the world body’s weapons inspection agency UNMOVIC as an analyst, the official said.
No one was injured in the blasts, which shattered windows but caused no significant damage, the New York Police Department said.
The devices, which contained black gunpowder and a fuse, blew out a chunk of concrete in the flower box where they were planted outside the building.
Less than a mile away from the blasts at U.N. headquarters, security was tightened after the incident was first reported — around 3:35 a.m. EDT (0735 GMT), police said.
The explosions occurred as voters in Britain were casting ballots in a general election in which Prime Minister Tony Blair is seeking a historic third term for his Labour Party.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the devices “unsophisticated.”
“It is true the British Consulate is in that building, but I don’t think anybody should jump to conclusions,” Bloomberg told reporters at the scene in midtown Manhattan.
“There’s no reason to jump to the conclusion that any one floor of that building was a target at this particular time,” the mayor said.
“So far nobody reported seeing anybody at the scene,” the mayor said, adding that there had been no warning call before the blast or any call claiming responsibility.
The blasts sent a 1 foot (30 cm) chunk of concrete from the planter flying into a panel of glass in the building.
One of the grenades looked like a pineapple and the other like a lemon, an investigator said, adding that similar items could be purchased at any toy store.
Police said the devices had been altered to explode by the addition of black gunpowder.
“It was one of those things you light and then run,” a police spokesman told the UK’s Press Association.
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said no timing device was used and that it appeared the grenades had a single fuse and were lit by hand.
Shrapnel from the explosion was found as far as half a block away, said Kelly, who appeared at the news conference with Bloomberg.
Authorities were reviewing video from security cameras in the area, Kelly said.
The road was closed for two blocks on either side of the building, which was surrounded by police and bomb squad experts.
Kelly said no other suspicious items were found around the building, and that sweeps of other diplomatic locations in New York also turned up nothing.
Witnesses described hearing two loud blasts just seconds apart.
Santos Figuroa was working down the street and said he heard “two loud bangs” that “sounded like thunder.”
The consulate is on the 9th and 10th floors of the building at 845 Third Avenue, between 51st and 52nd streets.
Other tenants in the 15-story building include The Conference Board, a private firm that compiles several U.S. economic indicators that help gauge the state of the American economy.
The company’s executive vice president and chief economist, Gail Fosler, was the target of an April 14 demonstration by activists against earth-moving equipment maker Caterpillar. Fosler is a Caterpillar board member.
During the protest, demonstrators held signs outside the building claiming that Caterpillar is supporting human rights abuses in the Middle East by supplying equipment used to destroy Palestinian homes.
The protest was part of the International Day of Action Against Caterpillar, organized in the United States by the group Jewish Voice for Peace.
Other companies with offices in the building include Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s largest newspaper; CorpBanca, a Latin American bank; Fundacion Amistad, a group that promotes understanding between the United States and Cuba; the Weather Channel; Liquid Realty Partners; Rosenzweig and Maffia CPAs; Rudin Management Company; and dozens of attorneys.
People who worked in the building were being allowed inside via a service entrance around 10 a.m.
British Consul General Sir Philip Thomas arrived on the scene after the blasts and spoke to FBI officials and detectives. He told reporters outside the consulate he had “no cause to believe” that his office was the target of the explosion.
In Chicago, two blocks of Michigan Avenue were closed briefly near the British Consulate there as a precautionary measure. The street reopened before the morning rush hour.
The Foreign Office said there were no provisions for Britons to vote at overseas consulates, The Associated Press reported.
Britain’s diplomatic representation abroad has been targeted for terrorist attacks in the past. (Full story)
In November 2003, a suicide bomb attack devastated the British Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Those who died in that incident included Consul General Roger Short, the UK’s top envoy in Istanbul.
The New York consulate is in a nondescript office block on the city’s well-heeled Third Avenue. It assists distressed Britons and can issue emergency British passports for a one-way journey to the UK, PA said.
It handles visa applications, as well as issues for British citizens such as the legalization of documents and notices of marriage. Its press and public affairs department organizes exchange programs, seminars and conferences, according to PA.
According to the consulate’s Web site, its aim is to foster “political, economic and social understanding by establishing links between British and American government officials, academics, researchers and public policy organizations.”
It updates local government officials on British government policy and keeps senior officials in London in touch with political, legislative and economic trends in its district.
A trade and investment section gives free advice and assistance to American firms interested in starting or expanding a business in the UK.