Manhattan subway explosion 'was attempted terrorist attack', says mayor

  • In World/Asia
  • 2017-12-11 18:36:10Z
  • By The Guardian

A 27-year-old man was in custody on Monday after detonating an explosive device in a New York City subway station during the morning commute.

The suspect, Akayed Ullah, was one of four people injured in the explosion, which occurred at about 7.20am in a passageway near 42nd Street and 8th Avenue, in midtown Manhattan near Times Square, New York City police said.


None of the injuries were life-threatening. At a press conference, New York police commissioner James O'Neill said the suspect had "an improvised low-tech explosive device attached to his body". Daniel Nigro, the fire department commissioner, said Ullah sustained burns to his hands and torso while the three other people suffered "ringing ears and headaches".

"This was an attempted terrorist attack," said New York City mayor Bill de Blasio.

Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, said an attack on the subway was "very frightening and disturbing" and "in many ways, one of our worst nightmares".

"This is New York," Cuomo said. "The reality is that we are a target by many who would like to make a statement against democracy, against freedom. We have the Statue of Liberty in our harbor. Anyone can go on the internet and download garbage and vileness, how to put together an amateur level explosive device, and that is the reality we live with.

"The counter-reality is that this is New York and we all pitch together, and we are a savvy people and we keep our eyes open … and we have the best law enforcement in the globe."

De Blasio said there were "no known additional incidents or activities" but said there would be an increased police presence in the city.

The suspect, a Bangladeshi immigrant, was being treated at Bellevue hospital. Police said there was video of the attempted attack. Asked if the suspect was connected to the Islamic State terror group, O'Neill said the suspect "did make statements" but did not elaborate.

Police were investigating Brooklyn properties connected to Ullah or his relatives shortly after the attempted attack. In the quiet residential neighborhood of Kensington, witnesses said they had seen a Swat team enter a six-story building.

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The subway station where the blast happened is below Port Authority bus terminal, the busiest in the world, serving at least 65 million passengers each year. On Monday morning, nearby Times Square and its surroundings were overwhelmed by police. The area would usually be packed with commuters and tourists.

The explosion occurred less than two months after a man drove a truck into a bicycle lane on Manhattan's west side, killing eight people. The suspect pleaded not guilty to 22 counts including providing material support to the Islamic State group.

In September 2016, 30 people were injured when a bomb exploded behind a dumpster on West 23rd Street, in the Chelsea neighbourhood. The suspect was found guilty this October, on eight charges.

On Monday, travellers reacted with bemusement, relief and some humor. Danny Nguyen, 24, heard the explosion while he waited for a bus home to Philadelphia. He said police ran into the station. "I saw a mom trying to take her daughter up the elevator the wrong way, just panicking," he said.

Tina Grimes, 38, was supposed to be on a bus to Boston. She said she was going to make the best of her extra time in New York. "It's too cold to walk around," she said. "Maybe I'll go shopping or something."

Barbara Petro had been due to return to Columbia, Maryland. She said the incident would not put her off visiting New York again, but was disappointed because "my granddaughter is singing in a Christmas performance as an angel tonight, and I don't think I'll make it".

The attack interrupted nearly every subway line and some trains were evacuated, putting even more strain on a subway system that has been heavily criticized for long delays and frequent train breakdowns.

Many New Yorkers were unfazed. Shaun Henderson was on the F train after the explosion and said he was just happy the trains were working, even if he was going to be late for work.

"It's the subway, you know," Henderson said. "New Yorkers are used to this. The F train doesn't need a pipe bomb to be fucked up."

Hours after the explosion, the subway system had almost completely resumed normal service. The only aberration was trains bypassing the station where the explosion occurred.

Donald Trump was briefed but did not immediately respond. Instead, the president tweeted a complaint about a New York Times story that said he watched four to eight hours of television every day. "Bad reporting," he wrote.

Though witnesses described panic immediately after the explosion, shortly after the attack the scene was calm. The usually frantic five lanes of 8th Avenue were closed to traffic from 34th Street to the site of the explosion but pedestrians and cyclists moved freely. Police blocked off the road between the huge frame of Port Authority and the New York Times skyscraper, across the street.

Lythia, who asked for her last name not to be used, was handing out a free paper, Metro, at the corner of 40th Street and 8th Avenue when she saw "people running towards me saying it was an explosion, it was a bomb. Everybody was just running. Then I saw the cops, the fire department, the ambulance, the bomb squad."

She said she was not scared:"I felt like an angel was protecting me."

Another newspaper distributor, Jerome Thompson, was more shaken up. "People came running from the situation," he said. "I was shocked. I was getting a little frightened too. I thought this is serious. I'm glad everybody is all right."

Additional reporting by Adam Gabbatt, Oliver Laughland and Alan Yuhas.


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