By Nick Zieminski and Daniel Trotta
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 at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, a block from Times Square, was identified as Akayed Ullah, 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 US resident, said the country’s police chief. He had no criminal record there and last visited Bangladesh on September 8, the chief said.
Ullah had a black cab/limousine driver’s licence from 2012 to 2015, after which it expired, the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission said.
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, described the device as “amateur-level.”
De Blasio told the same news conference that the incident, which happened at the start of the city’s 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 September 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.
“When you hear about a bomb in the subway station, which is in many ways one of our worst nightmares, the reality turns out better than the initial expectation and fear,” Cuomo told reporters. Later on CNN, he said the attacker apparently used the internet to obtain information on how to make a bomb.
The incident was captured on security video, police said. Video posted on NYPost.com showed smoke and a man lying in the tunnel that connects sections of the Times Square subway station and the bus 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.”
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.”
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 the suspect was in his 20s and that he has been in the United States for seven years and has an address in New York’s Brooklyn borough. Police shut down the entire block and there was a heavy police presence outside the 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.
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.
More than 200,000 people use the Times Square station, the city’s busiest, each weekday, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The bus terminal is connected to different sections of the sprawling Times Square subway station – which serves 10 train lines – through a long, narrow below-ground tunnel that carries thousands of commuters during rush hour. Buskers and other entertainers at entrances to the tunnel often draw crowds.