Times Square subway bomb blast burns suspect, injures three

Police officers stand guard outside the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City, U.S. December 11, 2017 after reports of an explosion. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

A Brooklyn man wearing a pipe bomb attached with Velcro and zip ties set off an explosive in the Times Square subway station Monday morning, injuring himself and three others, sending ambulances racing and commuters fleeing as Christmas shoppers poured into New York City.

The 27-year-old suspect, Akayed Ullah, wore the device that went off shortly after 7 a.m., Police Commissioner James O’Neill said at a news conference near the scene. Ullah suffered serious burns, while other victims had minor injuries, he said.

Video surveillance captured the explosion. It showed a crowd of commuters trudging toward the camera when a cloud of smoke and dust bursts into the picture. As the cloud fills the screen, dozens of commuters run. One person falls to the floor, apparently injured.

Ullah was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan, said Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro. The suspect has burns on his hands and abdomen, and serious lacerations, Nigro said. The three victims were taken to hospitals with minor injuries, including ringing ears and headaches, he said.

The attack was the second on New Yorkers in six weeks, coming after a man in a rented truck drove up a crowded bike path on Halloween. Monday’s explosion came at the height of Christmas season, when the city is filled with daytrippers and tourists expecting a fairytale Manhattan.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said New York, with its diversity and constant bustle, will be a target for people wishing to spread mayhem and fear.

“The choice of New York is always for a reason, because we’re a beacon to the world and we actually show that we as a society of many faiths and many backgrounds can work and democracy can work,” he said.

In the sprawling Times Square station, the city’s busiest, a “low, muffled sound” was heard when the bomb detonated, according to the New York Times. It went off in a walkway that runs underground between Seventh and Eighth avenues, connecting the lettered subway lines, the A, C and E, with the numbered lines, the 1, 2, and 3.

“You can tell that it was not normal commuter noise,” said Roxanne Malaspina, 50, an employee in Bloomberg LP’s legal department. She had just gotten off the A train when she heard the explosion and joined a crowd running further into the station to catch a train away from the area.

“It created a little bit of a panic in that underground passageway,” Malaspina said. “It’s not like normal commuter chaos.”

The motivation for the Monday blast was unclear. O’Neill said Ullah made statements to police, but declined to discuss them.

President Donald Trump was briefed on the incident, according to spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Rita Katz, a terrorism analyst who is director of the SITE Intelligence Group, said on Twitter that no group had claimed responsibility. “Pro- #ISIS channels cheering the attack,” she wrote.

John Miller, the New York Police Department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counter-terrorism, said investigators were assessing the bomb’s components and chemistry.

The attack made for a tumultuous beginning to the work week. Sirens echoed through the city as police cruisers and ambulances sped through the streets, and a traffic jam swiftly developed in front of the bus station on Eighth Avenue.

Fire trucks lined the street and metal gates blocked access to the scene. Onlookers wielding phone cameras tried to take videos and pictures.

All subway lines have returned to normal service with residual delays.

Monday’s attack underscored the difficulty of protecting a city of 8.5 million, the nation’s largest. Miller said that the city has been the target of the 1993 World Trade Center, the 9-11 catastrophe in 2001 and that 26 other plots “have been prevented through intelligence, investigation and interdiction.”

On Sept. 27, 2016, a bomb was detonated in the Chelsea neighborhood. In this year’s Halloween attack, Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant, was charged with terrorism. Eight people died, including five visitors from Argentina, and 12 were injured when a rental truck that authorities said Saipov drove plowed them over on a West Side Highway bike path.

“This is a fact of life, whether you’re in New York or London or Paris,” Miller said. “The question is, ‘Can it happen here?’ And the answer is, it can happen anywhere.”

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