U.S. federal prosecutors filed terrorism charges Tuesday against a Bangladeshi immigrant, alleging he scrawled anti-American messages in his passport before detonating a bomb beneath New York’s Times Square in the name of the extremist group Islamic State.
Akayed Ullah, a 27-year-old U.S. green-card holder who worked as a taxi or limo driver in New York City, is suspected of injuring himself and three other people by setting off a pipe-bomb strapped to his body in a busy subway tunnel during the Monday morning rush hour.
“He had been planning this particular attack for several weeks,” Joon Kim, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, told a news conference. “The location and timing of his planned attack was no accident, and his motivation was no mystery.”
Ullah left for the United States in September 2011, when he quit his studies at a private university in Bangladesh, his uncle, Abdul Ahad, told BenarNews in Bangladesh, where police brought the suspect’s wife and his in-laws in for questioning on Tuesday.
“I was really surprised to see his face on television,” Ahad said.
His nephew who is now in trouble with the American authorities last visited Dhaka on Sept. 8 this year to be with his wife, and he stayed till Oct. 22, according to Ahad.
“He did not visit anyone; he remained indoors. He did not mix with anyone,” the suspect’s uncle said.
On Tuesday in New York, U.S. authorities filed a 10-page criminal complaint against Ullah that details five counts of federal charges: Providing material support to a terrorist group, bombing a public place, using a weapon of mass destruction, destruction of property by means of fire or explosives, and using a destructive device during a crime of violence.
During the news conference, Kim identified the terrorist group as ISIS, another acronym for Islamic State (IS).
The federal charges indicate that Ullah began researching how to build a bomb about a year ago, the U.S. prosecutor said.
“As alleged, he also admitted that he had been inspired by ISIS to carry out this attack, saying that he had been radicalized by watching ISIS propaganda starting as far back as 2014,” Kim said.
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said Ullah “was inspired by a group that exploits technology in an effort to spread a violent ideology, effectively convincing sympathizers to commit terrorist acts worldwide.”
Back in Ullah’s home country, Islamic State is the group that claimed responsibility for a terrorist siege at a café in the capital Dhaka, during which 29 people, including 20 hostages and five gunmen were killed last year.
“The nature of this particular strain of the terrorism threat can often mean evaluating behavior that doesn’t mean anything until you combine it with other pieces of intelligence,” Sweeney said.
“We rely heavily upon the community’s assistance to accomplish that task.”
‘O America, Die in your rage’
New York police arrested Ullah after he allegedly triggered the pipe-bomb while walking in the subway tunnel. The metal pipe was filled with metal screws held together under his jacket with wires and zip ties, investigators said.
A photo published by New York news websites showed Ullah crumpled on the ground with his shirt blown off before he was taken to a hospital, where he is recuperating.
After police read Ullah his rights, and while receiving treatment for his injuries at the hospital, Ullah claimed he had acted on behalf of IS, Kim said.
Federal agents found police metal pipes, pieces of wires and metal screws when they searched Ullah’s apartment in Brooklyn on Monday, Kim said, explaining that the seized items were “consistent with bomb material recovered at the scene” after the explosion.
While searching the apartment, officers also found Ullah’s Bangladeshi passport, which contained handwritten messages, including “O AMERICA, DIE IN YOUR RAGE.”
While he was on his way to the Times Square area on Monday to carry out his attack, Ullah opened his Facebook account and posted a message for U.S. President Donald Trump, authorities said.
“Trump you failed to protect your nation,” Ullah wrote, according to the federal complaint.
The terror act allegedly perpetrated by the Bangladeshi led to the president citing Ullah’s case as an example of how, in his view, America’s immigration system needed to be overhauled.
“Today’s terror suspect entered our country through extended-family chain migration, which is incompatible with national security,” Trump said on Monday. “My Executive action to restrict the entry of certain nationals from eight countries, which the Supreme Court recently allowed to take effect, is just one step forward in securing our immigration system. Congress must end chain migration.”
But the White House offered no evidence about where Ullah was radicalized or whether there were any red flags in his record.
At Tuesday’s news conference in New York, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions echoed the president’s words.
“To make law enforcement’s job easier, however, Congress must finally fix our broken immigration system so that we admit to this country those who are likely to succeed, not violent criminals, gang members, terrorists, or their sympathizers,” Sessions said, noting that the U.S. Justice Department had convicted more than 500 criminals for terror-related offenses since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda in New York and Washington.
Meanwhile in Dhaka, police said they had interrogated Ullah’s wife and parents in-law.
“We have not arrested them. We are talking to them to extract information about him,” Saiful Islam, a deputy commissioner in the Bangladeshi police’s counter-terrorist branch, told BenarNews.
According to Ullah’s uncle, Ahad, his nephew got married two years ago.
Sohaili Ferdous, an assistant inspector general of police in Dhaka, said investigators had not gathered any evidence yet linking Ullah to militants or criminals in Bangladesh.
“But we will investigate further to ascertain whether he had any connection with the local militant groups,” she told BenarNews.
International terror plots
Monday’s explosion in the New York subway tunnel, which Mayor Bill de Blasio described as “an attempted terrorist attack,” was the second terrorist incident to rock his city in six weeks.
On Oct. 31, a man killed eight people and injured a dozen others as he drove a pickup truck down a bicycle path near the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. An officer shot and wounded the suspect, who was identified as a 29-year-old citizen of Uzbekistan, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov.
And in England last week, two men, a Bangladeshi-Briton and a Pakistani-Briton were charged on suspicion of planning to assassinate British Prime Minister Theresa May in a foiled plot linked to IS.
The Bangladeshi suspect, Naa’imur Zakariyah Rahman, 20, was charged with planning to detonate an improvised explosive device at the gates of May’s official office and residence, at No. 10 Downing Street in London, in order to gain access to the prime minister’s office in the ensuing chaos and kill her.