NEW YORK, (Reuters) – A Bangladeshi man with a homemade bomb strapped to his body set off an explosion at a New York commuter hub during rush hour today, wounding himself and three others in what New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called an attempted terrorist attack.
The suspect in the incident at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, a block from Times Square, was identified as Akayed Ullah, the New York Police Department commissioner said. The suspect had burns and lacerations while three other people, including a police officer, sustained minor injuries.
Ullah is from the Bangladeshi city of Chittagong and is a U.S. resident, said the country’s police chief. He had no criminal record there and last visited Bangladesh on Sept. 8, the chief said.
Ullah had a black cab/limousine driver’s license from 2012 to 2015, after which it expired, the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission said.
The weapon was based on a pipe bomb and fixed to the suspect with zip ties and velcro, police said. New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo, speaking at a news conference near the site, described the device as “amateur-level.”
De Blasio told the same news conference that the incident, which happened at the start of the city’s rush hour, was “an attempted terrorist attack.”
“As New Yorkers our lives revolve around the subways. When we hear of an attack in the subways, it is incredibly unsettling,” de Blasio said.
New York City was a target, said John Miller, deputy police commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism.
Miller cited the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that killed more than 2,750 people in New York and nearly 3,000 people total; and the World Trade Center bombing of February 26, 1993, which killed six people.
“In the course of the post-9/11 world, as you are aware, there’s also been approximately 26 plots that we can talk about that have been prevented through intelligence, investigation and intervention.”
The incident was captured on security video, police said. Video posted on NYPost.com showed smoke and a man lying in the tunnel that connects sections of the Times Square subway station and the bus station. A photograph showed a man lying facedown, with tattered clothes and burns on his torso.
“There was a stampede up the stairs to get out,” said one commuter, Diego Fernandez. “Everybody was scared and running and shouting.”
Alicja Wlodkowski, a Pennsylvania resident in New York for the day, was sitting in a restaurant in the bus terminal.
“Suddenly, I saw a group of people, like six people, running like nuts. A woman fell. No one even went to stop and help her because the panic was so scary.”
The bus terminal was temporarily shut down and a large swath of midtown Manhattan was closed to traffic. Subway train service returned to normal after earlier disruptions.
WABC reported the suspect was in his 20s and that he has been in the United States for seven years and has an address in New York’s Brooklyn borough. Police shut down the entire block and there was a heavy police presence outside the home.
First reports of the incident began soon after 7 a.m. (1200 GMT). New York in December sees a surge of visitors who come to see elaborate store displays, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and Broadway shows.
The bus terminal is the busiest in the United States, according to the Port Authority. On a typical weekday, about 220,000 passengers arrive or depart on more than 7,000 buses.
More than 200,000 people use the Times Square station, the city’s busiest, each weekday, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The bus terminal is connected to the Times Square subway station – which serves 10 train lines – through a long, narrow below-ground tunnel that carries thousands of commuters during rush hour. Buskers and other entertainers at entrances to the tunnel often draw crowds.
The incident rippled through American financial markets, briefly weakening equity markets as they were starting trading for the week and giving a modest lift to safe-haven assets such as U.S. Treasuries. S&P 500 index emini futures dipped in the moments after the initial reports of an explosion, but major stock indexes later opened slightly higher.
On the West Coast, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation authority asked law enforcement for heightened security along bus and rail lines as a precaution.
The incident occurred less than two months after an Uzbek immigrant killed eight people by speeding a rental truck down a New York City bike path, in an attack for which Islamic State claimed responsibility.
In September 2016, a man injured 31 people when he set off a homemade bomb in New York’s Chelsea district.