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Explosion rocks New York commuter hub, one suspect in custody

By on December 11, 2017

Police and fire crews block off the streets near the New York Port Authority in New York City, U.S. December 11, 2017 after reports of an explosion. (REUTERS/Edward Tobin)

NEW YORK – A Bangladeshi man with a homemade bomb strapped to his body set off an explosion at a New York commuter hub during rush hour on Monday, wounding himself and three others in what New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called an attempted terrorist attack.

The suspect in the incident in the Times Square subway station near the Port Authority Bus Terminal was identified as Akayed Ullah, 27, the New York Police Department commissioner said. The suspect had burns and lacerations while three other people, including a police officer, sustained minor injuries.

Ullah is from the Bangladeshi city of Chittagong and is a U.S. resident, said the country’s police chief. He had no criminal record there and last visited Bangladesh on Sept. 8, the chief said.

Ullah had a black cab/limousine driver’s license from 2012 to 2015, after which it expired, the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission said.

The White House said the attack underscored the need for U.S. immigration reforms.

The weapon was based on a pipe bomb and attached to the suspect, police said. New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo, speaking at a news conference near the site of the explosion, described the device as “amateur-level.”

Cuomo told CNN the explosive in the pipe ignited, but the pipe itself did not explode. “So he wound up hurting himself; several others in the vicinity.” He said the attacker apparently used the internet to obtain information on how to make a bomb.

At the news conference, De Blasio said the incident, which happened at the start of rush hour, was “an attempted terrorist attack.”

“As New Yorkers our lives revolve around the subways. When we hear of an attack in the subways, it is incredibly unsettling,” de Blasio said.

New York City was a target, said John Miller, deputy police commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism.

Miller cited the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that killed more than 2,750 people in New York and nearly 3,000 people total; and the World Trade Center bombing of February 26, 1993, which killed six people.

Fox News reported that the attacker made the device at his job at an electrical company and there were no known co-conspirators.

A pro-Islamic State media group, Maqdisi Media, portrayed the attempted terror attack as a response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition on Wednesday of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. SITE tracks and analyzes online activity by extremist groups.

The incident occurred less than two months after an Uzbek immigrant killed eight people by speeding a rental truck down a New York City bike path, in an attack for which Islamic State claimed responsibility.

In September 2016, a man injured 31 people when he set off a homemade bomb in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood.

The incident was captured on security video, police said. Video posted on showed smoke and a man lying in a long tunnel that connects sections of the sprawling Times Square subway station. A photograph showed a man lying facedown, with tattered clothes and burns on his torso.

“There was a stampede up the stairs to get out,” said one commuter, Diego Fernandez. “Everybody was scared and running and shouting.”

The bus terminal was temporarily shut down and a large swath of midtown Manhattan was closed to traffic. Subway train service returned to normal after earlier disruptions.

WABC reported that the suspect has been in the United States for seven years and has an address in New York’s Brooklyn borough. Police shut down a block in the borough’s Windsor Terrace section, and there was a heavy police presence outside a home.

First reports of the incident began soon after 7 a.m. (1200 GMT). New York in December sees a surge of visitors who come to see elaborate store displays, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and Broadway shows.

Alicja Wlodkowski, a Pennsylvania resident in New York for the day, was sitting in a restaurant in the bus terminal.

“Suddenly, I saw a group of people, like six people, running like nuts. A woman fell. No one even went to stop and help her because the panic was so scary.”

At the White House, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters, “This attack underscores the need for Congress to work with the president on immigration reforms that enhance our national security and public safety.”

” … We must ensure that individuals entering our country are not coming to do harm to our people,” she said during a regular news briefing. “And we must move to a merit-based system of immigration.”

More than 200,000 people use the Times Square station, the city’s busiest, each weekday, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Ten train lines use the station.

The bus terminal is the busiest in the United States, according to the Port Authority. On a typical weekday, about 220,000 passengers arrive or depart on more than 7,000 buses.

The bus terminal is just adjacent to the subway station’s western section. A long, narrow underground tunnel connects that part of the station to its eastern section, and is used by thousands of commuters during rush hour. Buskers and other entertainers at entrances to the tunnel often draw crowds.

The incident rippled through American financial markets, briefly weakening stock markets as they were starting trading for the week and giving a modest lift to safe-haven assets such as U.S. Treasuries.

Technology and energy stocks gained in early afternoon trading on Monday, helping Wall Street shake off uncertainties following an explosion.

(Reporting By Nick Zieminski, Dan Trotta, Jonathan Oatis and Simon Webb in New York, additional reporting by Bernie Woodall, Lisa Lambert, Gina Cherelus, Serajul Quadi, Joseph Ax, Makini Brice and Fred Katayama; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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