NEW YORK — A would-be suicide bomber was held Tuesday on state terrorism charges while federal prosecutors prepared their own case in the rush hour blast in the heart of the New York City subway system that failed to cause the bloodshed he intended, officials said.
Akayed Ullah, 27, was charged Tuesday with supporting an act of terrorism, making a terroristic threat and weapon possession, according to the New York Police Department. An announcement on federal charges was expected later.
It was unclear if the Bangladeshi immigrant, who was hospitalized with burns to his hands and stomach, was well enough to make a court appearance.
Overseas, Bangladesh counterterrorism officers were questioning the wife and other relatives of Ullah, officials there said Tuesday. Relatives and police said Ullah last visited Bangladesh in September to see his wife and newborn son before leaving them behind to return the United States.
Hours after Monday’s explosion in an underground passageway connecting two of Manhattan’s busiest stations, President Donald Trump cited the background of the bomber in renewing his call for closer scrutiny of foreigners who come to the country and less immigration based on family ties.
Ullah — who told investigators he wanted to retaliate for American action against Islamic State extremists — came to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 2011 on a visa available to certain relatives of U.S. citizens.
“Today’s terror suspect entered our country through extended-family chain migration, which is incompatible with national security,” Trump said in a statement that called for various changes to the immigration system. Earlier, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump’s proposed policies “could have prevented this.”
On his last visit to Bangladesh, the suspect mostly remained inside a small apartment in Dhaka’s Hazribagh area, said his uncle, Abdul Ahad. His nephew arrived in Bangladesh on Sept. 8 and returned to New York on Oct. 22, he said.
“He went out of his residence to offer prayers at a nearby mosque,” Ahad told The Associated Press.
In a scenario New York had dreaded for years, Ullah strapped on a crude pipe bomb with Velcro and plastic ties, slipped unnoticed into the nation’s busiest subway system and set off the device, authorities said.
The device didn’t work as intended; authorities said Ullah was the only person seriously wounded. But the attack sent frightened commuters fleeing through a smoky passageway, and three people suffered headaches and ringing ears from the first bomb blast in the subway in more than two decades.
Despite his injuries, Ullah spoke to investigators from his hospital bed, law enforcement officials said. He was “all over the place” about his motive but indicated he wanted to avenge what he portrayed as U.S. aggression against the Islamic State group, a law enforcement official said.
The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the blast.
Ullah’s low-tech bomb used explosive powder, a nine-volt battery, a Christmas light and matches, the officials said. Investigators said the suspect was seen on surveillance footage igniting the bomb. In the end, it wasn’t powerful enough to turn the pipe into deadly shrapnel, the officials said.
Law enforcement officials said Ullah looked at IS propaganda online but is not known to have any direct contact with the militants and probably acted alone.
The attack came less than two months after eight people died near the World Trade Center in a truck attack that, authorities said, was carried out by an Uzbek immigrant who admired the Islamic State group.
Since 1965, America’s immigration policy has centred on giving preference to people with advanced education or skills, or people with family ties to U.S. citizens and, in some cases, legal permanent residents. Citizens have been able to apply for spouses, parents, children, siblings and the siblings’ spouses and minor children; the would-be immigrants are then screened by U.S. officials to determine whether they can come.
Trump’s administration has called for a “merit-based” immigration system that would limit family-based green cards to spouses and minor children.
Ullah lived with his father, mother and brother in a Brooklyn neighbourhood with a large Bangladeshi community, residents said. He was licensed to drive a livery cab between 2012 and 2015, but the license was allowed to lapse, according to law enforcement officials and New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission.
John Miller, NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism, said Tuesday on CBS “This Morning” that Ullah didn’t seem to have any obvious problems.
He “was living here, went through number of jobs, was not particularly struggling financially or had any known pressures,” Miller said, adding Ullah “was not on our radar at NYPD, not on the FBI radar.”
Security cameras captured the attacker walking casually through a crowded passageway when the bomb went off around 7:20 a.m. A plume of white smoke cleared to show the man sprawled on the ground and commuters scattering.
Port Authority police said officers found the man injured on the ground, with wires protruding from his jacket and the device strapped to his torso. They said he was reaching for a cellphone and they grabbed his hands.
Associated Press writers Tom Hays, Jake Pearson, Kiley Armstrong, Larry Neumeister and David James Jeans in New York, Michael Balsamo in Los Angeles, Matt Pennington in Washington, D.C., and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.