Port Authority explosion, suspect Akayed Ullah: What to know

Akayed Ullah, 27, left, of Brooklyn, was charged with providing support to a terrorist organization on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017.
Akayed Ullah, 27, left, of Brooklyn, was charged with providing support to a terrorist organization on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. Photo Credit: David Handschuh

Alleged Port Authority bomber Akayed Ullah was ordered detained by a federal magistrate during a brief proceeding Wednesday afternoon through a video feed from the hospital where the accused Islamic State sympathizer is recovering from injuries suffered Monday.

Ullah, 27, was propped up under white sheets in his room at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue with his two public defenders while U.S. Magistrate Katharine Parker spoke to him from Manhattan federal court, where members of the press and public were able to watch.

During the 10-minute hearing, Ullah confirmed the video hookup was working – “Yes, I can see you,” he told Parker – and gave perfunctory answers to a series of questions about understanding his rights.

With his body entirely covered by bedding and only his face visible, Ullah was impassive, but briefly closed his eyes as Parker read the federal terrorism-related charges to him. Ullah’s lawyers did not contest a prosecutor’s request for detention without bail.

Ullah, a Bangladeshi native, “went to the Port Authority [Monday] with a purpose. The location and timing of his attack was no accident and his motivation was no mystery,” Joon H. Kim, the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Ullah began researching his attack a year ago, began collecting bomb-making materials two or three weeks ago and began making the bomb a week ago, Kim said.

The attack, which happened at about 7:20 a.m. Monday, injured Ullah and three other people, officials said. Ullah, who lives in Flatlands, was taken into custody minutes after the explosion.

He was charged with providing support to a terrorist organization, using a weapon of mass destruction, bombing a public place, destruction of property using an explosive and use of a destructive device, according to the criminal complaint filed Tuesday.

Here’s what we know about him and the attack:

Ullah was inspired by ISIS

Ullah told officers who interviewed him at the hospital that he was inspired by ISIS to carry out the attack, the criminal complaint said. “I did it for the Islamic State,” he said. 

He added that he did it in part because of the United State’s policies in the Middle East, according to the court document. 

His radicalization began in 2014, if not earlier, according to the complaint. “Ullah viewed pro-ISIS materials online, including a video instructing, in substance, that if supporters of ISIS were unable to travel overseas to join ISIS, they should carry out attacks in their homelands,” the complaint said. 

Investigators also found a handwritten note in his home that read, “O America, die in your rage,” the complaint said.

Ullah mocked President Donald Trump on Facebook before carrying out the attack, according to the criminal complaint. “Trump you failed to protect your nation,” he wrote on his Facebook account, the complaint said. 

The suspect has not been linked to any terrorist groups in Bangladesh, the country’s counter-terrorism chief, Monirul Islam, said. 

“In Bangladesh we have not found any connection or have not been able to identify any of his associates who were or are involved with any terrorist groups,” he said.

He researched how to build a bomb online

Ullah began researching how to build IEDs about a year ago, according to the criminal complaint. He began buying the materials to build the bomb used on Monday about two to three weeks before the attack, the complaint said.

The device was described by NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill as “an improvised, low-tech explosive device.” It was based on a pipe bomb and strapped to Ullah using Velcro and zip ties, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said. 

Ullah constructed the bomb using a metal pipe that he filled with “explosive material that he created,” according to the documents, including Christmas tree lights, wiring and a nine-volt battery.

Additional parts, including metal poles, pieces of wires and metal screws, were also found later at Ullah’s Brooklyn home, the complaint said.

The explosion didn’t have the intended impact

Ullah set off the device in the underground passageway that connects the Times Square and Port Authority subway stations during Monday morning’s rush hour with the goal of terrorizing “as many people as possible,” the complaint said. 

“He chose to carry out the attack on a workday because he believed that there would be more people,” the court document said.

Ullah “hoped to die,” Kim said, but the device did not fully detonate.

“It didn’t function with the force and power that the recipe intended it to,” Miller said about the bomb on “CBS This Morning” Tuesday. He said the impact could have been “far, far worse.”

The person most injured by the blast was Ullah, who sustained burns to his abdomen and hands, the FDNY said. Three other people suffered minor injuries.

Minutes after the attack, commuters rushed out of the terminal, flooding Eighth Avenue. Amid the smoke and chaos, a Port Authority police officer saw Ullah injured on the ground. He noticed the suspect reaching for a cellphone and saw that he had wires coming from his jacket.

The officer, Anthony Manferdini, took Ullah into custody and held him at the scene until the NYPD arrived, Port Authority Police Benevolent Association spokesman Bobby Egbert said. Three additional Port Authority officers — identified as Jack Collins, Sean Gallagher and Drew Preston — also helped secure the scene until the NYPD’s bomb squad arrived.

Ullah was then taken to NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue, where he remained Tuesday.

The incident led to street closures and transit disruptions in Manhattan. Subway service was restored hours after the bombing in part because the agency had conducted a counterterrorism exercise with the NYPD just a month before, MTA chairman Joe Lhota said. 

Ullah came to the U.S. on a F43 family immigrant visa

The 27-year-old is from Chittagong, a port city on the southeastern coast of Bangladesh, according to the country’s police chief.

He came to the United States using a passport displaying an F43 family immigrant visa in 2011, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. He was admitted under a process in which immigrants already in the country may sponsor family members, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed.

He last visited Bangladesh on Sept. 8, the country’s police chief said.

Ullah currently lives on East 48th Street, between avenues M and N, in Flatlands, Brooklyn, with his mother and siblings, according to police and neighbors. He had a number of jobs, including working as a licensed livery cab or limousine driver. His Taxi and Limousine Commission “for-hire vehicle” license was in effect between March 2012 and March 2015.

A government source said while Ullah drove limousines in the city he had a clean record, with no citations and only two traffic tickets. He had no known criminal record in Bangladesh or the United States and was not on the radar of the NYPD or FBI, officials said. 

“He’s somewhat characteristic of what we’ve been seeing across the world which is somebody who turns up one day out of the blue,” Miller said on “CBS This Morning.”

Kisslyn Joseph, 19, said she has lived next door to Ullah on East 48th Street for the past month and a half.

“He doesn’t talk to anybody. He doesn’t say hi or anything. I would say good morning or something and he just ignored me,” Joseph said in an interview.

The family kept to themselves, said Stanley Morgan, 59, who has lived on the block for six years. 

“They’re not friendly at all,” he said. “They speak to nobody on the block.”

Police searched Ullah’s home on East 48th Street Monday, as well as another house on Ocean Parkway in Kensington that is linked to the suspect. Ullah used to attend the Masjid Nur al-Islam mosque on Church and Chester avenues in Kensington, according to the New York Times. 

Ullah’s family was “outraged” by law enforcement conduct

Ullah’s family in Brooklyn released a statement following the attack, expressing sorrow for his alleged actions, but also concerns about the investigation.

“We are heartbroken by this attack on our city today and by the allegations being made against a member of our family. Our Family like all families is committed to the safety and wellbeing of all New Yorkers. But we are also outraged by the behavior of law enforcement officials during this investigation,” the family said in a statement released by the Council On American-Islamic Relations New York chapter on Monday. “Today, we have seen our children, as young as 4 years old, held out in the cold, detained as their parents were questioned. One teenage relative was pulled out of high school classes and interrogated without a lawyer, without his parents. These are not the actions that we expect from our justice system, and we hope to see better in the days and weeks to come.”

Bill Sweeney, director of the FBI’s New York office, said during the news briefing that his agency’s top priority after a terror attack arrest is to identify other possible operatives or threats.

“That may dictate that we locate, detain, and interview individuals in order to ensure the safety of the public and the safety of the law enforcement personnel conducting those operations,” said Sweeney. “Our teams use appropriate, reasonable and lawful methods to accomplish these goals. But to be clear, our teams will move with speed and move with purpose.”

A request for comment from the NYPD regarding the Ullah family’s statement was not immediately returned.

Meanwhile, police in Bangladesh were also questioning Ullah’s wife, who he has a 6-month-old son with, and his in-laws, Monirul Islam, the country’s counterterrorism chief, said.

“We have collected evidence and information from his family members: his wife, father-in-law and mother-in-law,” he said.

The family members were on surveillance and were not allowed to leave Dhaka without police permission.

With Rajvi Desai, Lauren Cook, Newsday and Reuters

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