New York: US prosecutors on Tuesday brought federal charges against the suspect in Monday’s attempted suicide bombing in one of New York City’s (NYC) busiest commuter hubs, accusing him of supporting a foreign terrorist organisation.
Akayed Ullah, a 27-year-old Bangladeshi and self-described supporter of the radical group Islamic State (IS), was also charged in a criminal complaint with bombing a public place, destruction of property by means of explosive and use of a destructive device in a Manhattan district court.
Ullah planned to “murder as many human beings as he could … in support of a vicious terrorist cause,” acting US attorney Joon Kim told a news conference after filing the charges.
NYC police have said that Ullah set off a pipe bomb in an underground corridor of the subway system that connects Times Square to the Port Authority Bus Terminal at rush hour on Monday morning, injuring himself and three others.
He told police interviewers after the blast, “I did it for the Islamic State,” according to court papers filed by federal prosecutors.
Ullah began the process of self-radicalisation in 2014 when he started viewing pro-IS materials online and carried out his attack because he was angry over US policies in the Middle East, prosecutors said.
New York officials on Tuesday also filed state charges against Ullah, as investigators in his home country questioned his wife.
Ullah was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, supporting an act of terrorism, and making a terrorist threat under New York state law, the NYC police department said.
The federal charges, which are expected to take precedence over the state charges, carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Officials declined to disclose Ullah’s condition at Bellevue Hospital late on Tuesday. His first court appearance in the case could come as soon as Wednesday and may be conducted by video conference with a judge, a spokesman for the US Attorney’s office said.
On the morning of the attack, Ullah posted on his Facebook page, “Trump you failed to protect your nation.” Ullah’s passport, which was recovered from his home, had handwritten notes, including one that read, “O AMERICA, DIE IN YOUR RAGE.”
Investigators at the scene found a nine-volt battery inside Ullah’s pant pocket, as well as fragments from a metal pipe and the remnants of what appeared to be a Christmas tree light bulb attached to wires.
Ullah told investigators that he built the bomb at his Brooklyn home one week before the attack, filling the pipe with metal screws to maximise damage. He chose a workday to target as many people as possible.
Investigators in Bangladesh were questioning Ullah’s wife, according to two officials who declined to be identified as they were not permitted to publicly discuss the matter. They said the couple have a six-month-old son.
A police official who took part in that interview, who declined to be named as he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the wife told investigators that Ullah had never prayed regularly before he moved to the US.
NYC police and the FBI were leading the investigation into Ullah in conjunction with other agencies through the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and were asking the public for any information about the suspect.
Investigators were poring through data on Ullah’s electronic devices, said a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Assistant FBI director-in-charge William Sweeney said there was so far no indication that Ullah had previously attracted the attention of the FBI.
Ullah lived with his mother, sister and two brothers in Brooklyn and was a green card holder, said Shameem Ahsan, consul general of Bangladesh in New York.
US President Donald Trump said again on Tuesday that the attack emphasized the need for immigration reforms.
Monday’s incident occurred less than two months after an Uzbek immigrant killed eight people by speeding a rental truck down a NYC bike path in an attack for which IS claimed responsibility.
“There have now been two terrorist attacks in NYC in recent weeks carried out by foreign nationals here on green cards,” Trump said. “The first attacker came through the visa lottery, the second came through chain migration. We’re going to end both of them.”
The US Supreme Court last week allowed Trump’s latest travel ban, targeting people from six Muslim-majority countries, to go into full effect even as legal challenges continued in lower courts.
The ban covers people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen seeking to enter the US. Trump has said the travel ban was needed to protect the US from terrorism by Islamist militants.
Bangladesh is not among the countries affected by the ban.
John Miller, the NYC police department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counter terrorism, said on Tuesday that police would review the attempted suicide bombing and adjust security plans for the upcoming new year’s eve celebrations in Times Square.
“This is the first time I believe that we have seen an individual with a suicide bomb in mass transit and actually have that bomb function. So we’re going to take a hard look at it,” Miller said in an interview.