Suspect In New York Subway Blast Had 'Low-Tech' Device

Dec 11, 2017
Originally published on December 11, 2017 1:29 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We are learning more about the man who's suspected of setting off an explosion in a crowded corridor between two New York City subway stations this morning. Police are calling it an attempted terror attack. They say a suspect named Akayed Ullah is in custody. NPR's Joel Rose reports from New York.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Surveillance video footage shows a crowded underground corridor near Times Square at rush hour. There's a sudden flash of white smoke, and when it clears a single figure is lying on the ground.

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BILL DE BLASIO: This was an attempted terrorist attack. Thank God the perpetrator did not achieve his ultimate goals.

ROSE: That's Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference this morning.

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DE BLASIO: As New Yorkers, our lives revolve around the subways. When we hear of an attack on the subway it's incredibly unsettling. Thank God the only injuries we know at this point were minor.

ROSE: Three bystanders were treated for ringing in the ears and headaches, according to the fire department, while the suspect sustained burns to his hands and abdomen. He's in custody at Bellevue Hospital. NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller says the suspect had a low-tech explosive device strapped to his body.

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JOHN MILLER: The device is based on a pipe bomb. It was affixed to his person with a combination of Velcro and zip ties. We're going to gather up those pieces and we'll have a better idea of what the device was put together with and what was inside it.

ROSE: Police identified the suspect as Akayed Ullah. He's 27 years old and lives in Brooklyn. Local and federal law enforcement officials fanned out across the borough, trying to learn more about him from family and neighbors. Immigration officials say he's a lawful permanent resident who came to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 2011 with his family. At the White House today, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the attack underscores the need for tougher immigration policies.

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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: We must protect our borders. We must ensure that individuals entering our country are not coming to do harm to our people. And we must move to a merit-based system of immigration.

ROSE: The Trump administration has pushed for an end to so-called chain migration based on family relationships. Sanders did not elaborate on her suggestion that Ullah was radicalized outside of the U.S. Police in New York haven't said much about what might have motivated the suspect. Mike O'Neil is a former commanding officer of the NYPD's counterterrorism division.

MICHAEL O'NEIL: To me, it looks like a homegrown - I hate using that term, but a - someone that was radicalized either locally or online by ISIS.

ROSE: O'Neil is now the CEO of MSA security in New York. Based on the surveillance camera footage, O'Neil says the bomb was not well-made.

O'NEIL: It was a low-order explosive. It probably wasn't prepared well. And it probably didn't detonate like he assumed it would detonate.

ROSE: O'Neil says the suspect did choose a prime target, just a few hundred feet from the Port Authority, one of the busiest bus terminals anywhere. If the bomb had worked as intended, O'Neil says, the damage would have been much, much worse. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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