Botched Suicide Bombing Jolts New York Rush Hour, Injures Four
A 27-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant inspired by Islamic State set off a pipe bomb strapped to his body as he blended with rush-hour commuters in one of New York City’s busiest transit hubs Monday morning, authorities said, but the explosive fizzled, burning him and injuring three others.
Akayed Ullah, an electrical worker, detonated the low-tech device at about 7:20 a.m. in a crowded passageway that connects the massive Port Authority Bus Terminal and Manhattan’s crowded Times Square subway station, police said. He had taken the subway from his home in Brooklyn. Other than a traffic violation, the former livery car driver hadn’t appeared on authorities’ radar.
Such an attack has long been feared in the packed subways that keep America’s most populous city running, but New York was fortunate Monday: there was mainly inconvenience.
President Donald Trump took aim at the type of visa used by Mr. Ullah, which is granted to siblings of immigrants, while also calling on Congress to make changes to U.S. immigration policy.
“America must fix its lax immigration system, which allows far too many dangerous, inadequately vetted people to access our country,” he said in a statement.
A proliferation of Islamic State-inspired attacks has created new challenges for a police force that is among the most sophisticated in counterterrorism, said William Bratton, former New York police commissioner. He said the city of eight million is a prime “soft target.”
“The reality is that if someone wants to take time to plan an attack, there’s no shortage of places they can plan an attack on and in New York City,” Mr. Bratton said. The pace of the attacks “has accelerated which is naturally a concern.”
The investigation into the incident is being led by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, a law-enforcement group formed in 1980 that includes members of the NYPD and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The attack came just weeks after an Islamic State-influenced immigrant from Uzbekistan drove a rented truck down a Manhattan bike lane killing eight people and injuring 12 more. A New Jersey man was convicted this fall for planting homemade time bombs in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood in September 2016 that injured dozens of people.
Terrorists “yearn to attack New York City,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Mr. Ullah came to the U.S. legally on an immigrant visa for relatives of U.S. citizens in 2011, and is a legal permanent resident, said Tyler Houlton, a spokesman with the Department of Homeland Security.
Mr. Trump said a third version of his disputed travel ban that limits travel to the U.S. for most foreigners from six majority-Muslim countries, North Korea, and government officials from Venezuela is one step to helping ease security concerns. The ban doesn’t affect citizens from Bangladesh. But he added Congress needs to end family-based immigration.
The administration has made cracking down on immigration—both legal and illegal—a priority, and officials repeatedly have argued that vetting for foreigners trying to come to the U.S. hasn’t been stringent enough in the past.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement that the administration will “fight back” against terrorists targeting the U.S. She said her agency is assisting authorities in New York with both the response and investigation.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo described Mr. Ullah as a disgruntled “lone wolf.” Mr. Cuomo said the suspect downloaded information from the internet on how to make a bomb but noted that the device didn’t explode as planned.
Albert Fox Cahn, the legal director for the New York chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, read a statement from the Ullah family, saying they were “heartbroken by the violence that was targeted at our city today and by the allegations being made against a member of our family.”
“We are also outraged by the behavior of the law-enforcement officials who have held children as small as four years old out in the cold and who pulled a teenager out of high school classes to interrogate him without a lawyer, without his parents,” Mr. Cahn said.
“These are not the sorts of actions we expect from our justice system and we have every confidence that our justice system will find the truth behind this attack and we will in the end be able to learn what occurred today,” Mr. Cahn said.
The explosion disrupted thousands of commuters during the morning rush hour. Multiple subway lines were evacuated, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey closed the bus station temporarily. An estimated 230,000 people pass through the transit hub each day.
Dressed in cargo pants, a coat and a sweatshirt on a subfreezing morning, Mr. Ullah was walking in a crowd of commuters when the device was detonated, according to a Port Authority surveillance camera video that was confirmed by a federal law-enforcement official. After the detonation, the suspect is surrounded in smoke, before he drops to the ground, based on the video footage.
Chelsea LaSalle, a 28-year-old graphic designer, was in Port Authority heading into the A, C, E subway when dozens of people started rushing at her.
“People were screaming ‘Get out, get out’ and some were yelling ‘Bomb!’” she said.
But the device—which authorities described as a pipe bomb that was affixed to the suspect with Velcro and zip ties—only partially detonated, limiting the damage, according to officials. Mr. Cuomo said the explosive chemical in the bomb went off as planned, but the pipe didn’t explode.
When police officers arrived on the scene, they saw wires trailing between Mr. Ullah’s jacket and pants, the official said. When they searched him, they found that he was carrying a nine-volt battery.
Investigators said Mr. Ullah described “the plight of Muslims” in the Middle East to investigators, specifically mentioning the Gaza strip, Iraq and Syria, a senior law-enforcement official said.
With the exception of the traffic summonses, Mr. Ullah, who was taken to Bellevue Hospital to treat his burns, had no criminal history in New York City, according to the senior law-enforcement official.
The police are investigating reports that Mr. Ullah traveled back to Bangladesh in September of this year, the senior official said.
He had been living in a two-story colonial home on a tree-lined block in Old Mill Basin, Brooklyn, a multiethnic neighborhood.
Alan Butrico, who owns the house next door and his cousin, Ross Faillace, who runs a part-time car detailing shop in the back of Mr. Butrico’s property, said Mr. Ullah was usually clean cut and wore regular clothes, but that lately Mr. Ullah had grown a beard.
Kisslya Joseph of Grenada has been staying with her brother who lives next door to Mr. Ullah. “This has shaken me up and my family because it’s like you never know who your neighbor is,” Ms. Joseph said.