Suspect In NYC Blast Was Wearing 'Low-Tech' Device

Dec 11, 2017
Originally published on December 11, 2017 12:11 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo stood this morning outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. In an underground passageway somewhere beneath Cuomo's feet, a man had set off a homemade suicide vest earlier in the morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDREW CUOMO: 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. We have the Statue of Liberty in our harbor, and that makes us an international target. We understand that.

INSKEEP: Cuomo said that an attack like this, on rush-hour in Manhattan, is one of our worst nightmares but that the reality of this particular attack had not turned out as grave as some people might have feared. NPR's Amita Kelly has been on the streets of Manhattan this morning, and she's on the line. Hi, Amita.

AMITA KELLY, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So we just had a news conference. We heard from Cuomo, we heard from the mayor, we heard from the police commissioner and some other people. Let's begin filling in details of what is known to have happened. I guess this starts when?

KELLY: So it started around 7:20 this morning, the incident that happened. Police responded to a report of an explosion. There were lots of conflicting reports around injuries. And one thing we learned from the press conference, there were three minor injuries. So again, as Cuomo said, better than expected, than the response had expected.

INSKEEP: Yeah. I guess he seriously injures himself with this device, the attacker does, but only three other people with minor injuries.

KELLY: Right. And the suspect was reported to have more serious injuries but three minor other than that.

INSKEEP: Impressed that some of the people injured walked themselves to nearby hospitals, so just kind of taking care of themselves. Let's talk about the device that this man had. There was some description of what exactly he was carrying.

KELLY: Right. So this was described as a low-tech device - and the suspect was named during this press conference as 27-year-old Akayed Ullah - a low-tech device based on a pipe bomb which was attached to the suspect with Velcro and zip ties, apparently - so kind of household items. We don't know much more than that. Authorities said that would be part of the investigation. Mayor de Blasio did call it an attempted terrorist attack, though.

INSKEEP: And a reminder of the fuzziness of all information at this point - the police commissioner, I'm pretty sure, did say that he intentionally set off this pipe bomb as opposed to maybe accidentally blowing himself up. But at a later point in the same news conference, I believe another official indicated that there was some lack of clarity about that.

KELLY: Right. And the New York Police Department commissioner, James O'Neill, he was asked if there was any connection to ISIS. He responded that the suspect did make statements. So again, there is some sense maybe of intent, but again, authorities are cautioning that'll come out in the investigation, and they wouldn't say much more than that.

INSKEEP: What do you mean did make statements - you mean immediately before the explosion or some other time?

KELLY: He was asked if he was - made statements in connection to the state - to the explosion.

INSKEEP: In connection to the explosion. And of course, as with many suspects, we're going to find out if there's some kind of a trail - is there a social media trail, are there notes that he's written, are there other kinds of electronic or other kinds of communications? And of course, there will be questions about whether this is an individual who was known to the New York City Police Department or the FBI, which has a massive antiterrorism presence in New York City. What...

KELLY: Exactly. So all that's to come.

INSKEEP: Yeah. What other questions are unanswered at this point, Amita?

KELLY: So again, as you're saying, we don't know that much about the suspect. We don't know much more about the device. It also seems that police responded to the explosion. Mayor de Blasio described it as an attempted terrorist attack. So again, there's sort of an illusion that there was a bigger plan in place, but we really don't know what that was and whether it was thwarted or it sort of self-sabotaged.

INSKEEP: And - yeah, we are getting into the area where the maximum care needs to be taken because the motivation for an attack can add to its political meaning or subtract from it, and many people have motivation to jump on what they think the motive is. Amita, thanks very much.

KELLY: Any time.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Amita Kelly. And let's go out on this story anyway with a little bit more from that news conference. This is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio just a short time ago.

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BILL DE BLASIO: Let's be clear - as New Yorkers, our lives revolve around the subways. When we hear of an attack on the subway, it's incredibly unsettling. And let's be also clear this was an attempted terrorist attack.

INSKEEP: Although an attack that officials emphasize did not disrupt the morning commute for that long. Some subway lines had to be evacuated. But by the time of the news conference a couple of hours later, people insisted, officials insisted, that transit systems were back to normal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.