by Catherine Triomphe
Agence France Presse
NEW YORK, United States (AFP) — A 27-year-old from Bangladesh detonated a home-made pipe bomb strapped to his body in a crowded New York subway passage during the morning rush hour Monday, injuring three people and putting the city on edge just six weeks after a deadly truck attack.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the bombing an “attempted terrorist attack,” as police identified the suspect, who alone suffered serious injuries, as an immigrant named Akayed Ullah — prompting fresh calls from the White House for a tightening of US borders.
There was no immediate statement of his motive or claim of responsibility. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was not part of a “sophisticated network” but appeared to have been “influenced” by the Islamic State or other extremist groups.
The governor said the city was lucky as the primitive pipe bomb Ullah had attached to his chest only partly exploded, with the pipe itself remaining intact.
“Fortunately for us the bomb partially detonated,” Cuomo told CNN. “It did not fully have the effect that he was hoping for.”
Amid concerns that President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last week could spur some kind of retaliation, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen urged continued vigilance by the public.
“The administration continues to adopt significant security measures to keep terrorists from entering our country and from recruiting within our borders,” she said.
Attackers “should know this: Americans will not be coerced by terrorism, and we will not allow it to become the new normal,” she said.
Bomb only partially exploded
Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders argued meanwhile that the attack could have been prevented by tighter immigration rules.
“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 told the daily White House briefing.
“So the president will aggressively continue to push forth responsible immigration reform.”
The blast took place in the subway station at the Port Authority bus terminal, not far from the city’s iconic Times Square, sparking commuter panic and travel disruptions.
For several hours numerous subway trains were forced to bypass the Port Authority and Times Square stations as the investigation unfolded.
Police quickly evacuated the Port Authority station and closed off the area, which was filled with police cars and ambulances with flashing lights.
A closed-circuit security video of the passageway showed commuters scattering as the bomb exploded and one body — that of the bomber — on the ground after the smoke cleared.
Ullah was sent to a hospital with apparently severe burns and wounds on his torso and hands.
The other three people injured suffered ringing in the ears, headaches and other minor complaints.
Police were questioning family members and neighbors in the middle class Flatlands neighborhood of Brooklyn.
According to media reports, Ullah has been in the country for seven years, and had worked as a taxi driver. The New York Post, citing police sources, said he told investigators it was a revenge attack for “bombing” in his home country.
While stressing the investigation was still ongoing, Cuomo said initial indications suggested the suspect was a disgruntled individual who took inspiration from online jihadist materials.
‘One of our worst nightmares’
The explosion rattled nerves in New York, which still bears the scars of the devastating September 11, 2001 attacks, as well as a deadly truck attack just six weeks ago.
On October 31, Sayfullo Saipov, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, drove a rented truck down a busy bike and pedestrian path, killing eight people and injuring 12.
“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 told reporters.
The city remains on high alert ahead of the holidays, which culminate every year with the giant New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square, attended by hundreds of thousands of revelers.
Monday’s attack highlighted one of New York City’s greatest vulnerabilities — its underground transit system.
A bomb in a subway station “is in many ways one of our worst nightmares,” Cuomo said.
“We have the Statue of Liberty in our harbor, and that makes us an international target. We understand that,” he added.
© Agence France-Presse