NEW YORK – It’s not known whether Akayed Ullah, the Bangladeshi national from Brooklyn, New York, who failed in his attempt to kill innocent people under Times Square, on Monday morning, 7:20 a.m., by detonating a bomb strapped to his body, saw a structure of a sleigh and reindeer perched on the crisscrossed steel and iron façade of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, set up as holiday décor.
But what’s known now is that the 27-year-old Ullah was enraged by Christmas holiday images inside the subway corridors that weave under Times Square linking the 7th, 8th and Broadway Avenues, which handles some 220,00 commuters daily. He made a crude pipe bomb filled with screws, a 9-volt battery and Christmas lights, at home. When he exploded it prematurely underground, a total of six people were injured, with him the only one who was seriously injured.
Ullah confessed after being apprehended and later hospitalized at Bellevue Hospital with severe burns and lacerations, to being inspired and radicalized by ISIS propaganda, enraged by American air strikes in some Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East, including Syria; wanted to create mayhem in America, his adopted home for almost seven years, after he emigrated from Dhaka, in February, 2011, on a F-4 family-based Green Card sponsored by a relative.
According to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday, Ullah, who was confident of his mission as a suicide bomber, posted a message to President Donald Trump on his Facebook page just before the bungled subway attack, “Trump you failed to protect your nation.” He also posted a second message that “he believed would be understood by members and supporters of ISIS to convey that Ullah carried out the attack in the name of ISIS,” the complaint said.
“I did it for the Islamic State,” he allegedly told investigators who interviewed him at the hospital after he waived his Miranda rights, reported NBC News. Among his belongings was a passport with the handwritten note: “O America, die in your rage.”
Ullah’s attack came on the heels of a Muslim day of rage in Dhaka, last week, where thousands of Muslims protested over Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Ullah didn’t have a criminal record, either in the US or Bangladesh, apart from some traffic citations. He held a New York City ‘For-Hire Vehicle Driver’s License’ from March 2012 through March 2015, at which time it lapsed and was not renewed, said Allan Fromberg, a spokesman for the Taxi and Limousine Commission.
Ullah even followed family tradition: got married in 2016, on a visit back home, and fathered a child, who was born on June 10 this year, according to Mohammed Saiful Islam, a Bangladeshi counterterrorism deputy police commissioner.
Ullah’s wife, Jannatul Ferdous Jui, as well as his parents-in-law, Zulfiqar Haider and Mahfuza Akhter, were detained at their home in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka on Tuesday and taken into custody for questioning, Islam said. In Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, his parents and some other individuals were taken in for questioning. His father ran a grocery store, according to Daily Mail.
After police descended on three residences in Brooklyn that were linked to Ullah, his family released a statement through the Council on American-Islamic Relations, reported NBC.
“We are heartbroken by the violence that was targeted at our city today, and by the allegations being made against a member of our family,” the statement said. “But we are also outraged by the behavior of law enforcement officials who have held children as small as 4 years old out in the cold and who held a teenager out of high school classes to interrogate him without a lawyer, without his parents.”
For beleaguered New Yorkers, the news of the futile attempt of the suicide bomber came as a relief. They have been struck by a spate of murderous attacks, including the horrendous action of Uzbeki national Sayfullo Saipov who rammed a truck through a bike path for several blocks, on Halloween, killed eight people and injured two dozen others, on October 31. It was the deadliest terror attack in New York City since the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
However, there was also a sense of resignation and dread by some residents and commuters in the aftermath of Ullah’s attack, that this was just the new normal.
“God knows, when the next attack will happen, it’s just becoming too much of a regular thing,” a man, who wished to remain unidentified, told this writer, as he passed by Port Authority, hours after the attack which prompted a massive lockdown by local law enforcement officials, near Times Square.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it all too clearly, at a news conference, on Monday.
“This is New York, the reality is that we are a target by many who would like to make a statement against democracy, against freedom,” Cuomo said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio voiced his relief at the press conference: “Thank God the perpetrator did not achieve his ultimate goals.”
Some prominent Bangladeshi Americans in the New York Tristate area expressed their surprise and outrage at the news of Ullah’s attack
Abu Taher, the editor of Bangla Patrika, a community newspaper based in New York City, said in an interview to News India Times that the Bangladeshi community is “in shock and is fearful.”
“There is a lot of confusion in the community, and people are very scared of what will happen next,” said Taher, inferring to fear of racial attacks in retaliation. He informed that the community planned to demonstrate against the action of Ullah, show to mainstream America that they condemn his actions.
Shahin Khalique, a Bengali immigrant who was elected to the Paterson city council, New Jersey, in 2016, told NJ.com: “This is an isolated incident. We are law-abiding citizens. There isn’t any connection to anybody in Paterson. I don’t think there will be any backlash.”
Prior to Khalique’s victory in 2016, another Bengali immigrant, Mohammed Akhtaruzzman, held the city’s 2nd Ward city council seat.
“This is not something you see in our community,” Akhtaruzzaman said of Monday’s attack. “We don’t have that problem.”
Wajahat Ali, a Contributing Oped Writer for nytimes.com, and Emmy-nominated producer, who helped launch the Al Jazeera America network as co-host of Al Jazeera America’s The Stream, tweeted after Ullah’s attack: “There are more than 75,000 immigrants in New York from Bangladesh, a country of 163 million. Like Akayed Ullah, the Port Authority terror suspect. Also, like your cab driver, favorite street food seller, co-worker, school colleague, neighbors, partners, friends.”
He sent out another tweet targeted at Trump’s policies: “#AkayedUllah was in this country for 7 years. So much for that Muslim Ban and Wall, right? Also his country of origin isn’t one of the countries on the Ban. But yes…somehow those ineffective and counter-productive security measures will make us safer.”
Simran Jeet Singh, Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion at Trinity University and Senior Religion Fellow for the Sikh Coalition, captured the fear of people of brown skin in America, with this tweet on Ullah’s attack (truncated), “…incidents like these have been followed by violence against innocent brown Americans. Please remember to stand against hate if you witness it.”
The mainstream narrative in the wake of Ullah’s attack, however, quickly turned to the issue of family-based ‘chain migration’ Green Cards, an issue Trump has recently spoken about, that he wanted to end it, in favor of merit-based family immigration.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke about the immigration issue, on Monday, hours after the attack, indicating which way the Trump administration would go about in efforts to clamp down on future terrorist attacks.
“The President is certainly concerned that Congress, particularly Democrats, have failed to take action in some places where we feel we could have prevented this,” Sanders said. “Specifically, the President’s policy has called for an end to chain migration and if that had been in place, that would have prevented this individual from coming to the United States.”
She added: “The President is certainly concerned that Congress, particularly Democrats, have failed to take action in some places where we feel we could have prevented this. Specifically, the President’s policy has called for an end to chain migration and if that had been in place, that would have prevented this individual from coming to the United States.”
About 9.3 million foreign nationals have come to the U.S. as chain migrants between 2005 and 2016, Breitbart News reported. In that same period, 13.06 million foreign nationals have entered the U.S. through the legal immigration system, as every seven out of 10 new arrivals come to the country for nothing other than family reunification.
This makes chain migration the largest driver of immigration to the U.S. — making up more than 70 percent — with every two new arrivals bringing seven foreign relatives with them.
Even as the news of the attack by Ullah tried to gain traction with the heat of the Alabama Senate election, New York City quickly settled into its festival mood by late afternoon Monday.
Times Square bustled with activity, huge crowds thronged it; there was hardly any space for pedestrians to move past the Saks Fifth Avenue store, where people jostled to take photographs and video of the festive window decorations.
Monday evening, at the Arthur Ross Book Award Ceremony and reception, at the Council on Foreign Relations, the attack didn’t merit any talk or open discussion, with Robert Worth, a writer for New York Times Magazine and author of ‘A Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, From Tahrir Square to ISIS’, who won the Silver Medal, sticking to the Arab uprising in his speech, not delving into the fostering ‘Muslim uprising’ in the wake of Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem.
Bangladeshi American Imran G. Chowdhury, Assistant Professor of Management, Lubin School of Business, at Pace University, who was present at the awards, along with this writer, told News India Times, that “it is disturbing that we have had two terrorist attacks in New York in less than two months. In both instances, the attackers were young men in their late twenties, and seem to have self-radicalized by accessing ISIS-related materials on the internet.”
Chowdhury narrated his assimilation in America: “My parents, my younger brother, and I settled in Astoria, Queens in 1985, when I was 5 years old. We arrived from Dhaka back then, and now feel so much a part of New York and the United States, our home. So to hear that the national origin of the attacker is Bangladeshi was shocking. In my family’s thirty-two years in the United States we have known Bangladeshi-Americans to be family- and community-oriented, eager to serve others, interested in the education and professional success of their children, and pious in their beliefs, but primarily pursuing religious life individually and within the community.”
He added: “I, and I am sure the broader Bangladeshi-American community shares my view, condemn the actions in the subway system near Port Authority yesterday morning in the strongest possible terms. There is no place for this kind of action in a free and open society such as ours.”