Federal Authorities File Terrorism Charges Against New York Bombing Suspect, Say He Taunted Trump First
Federal prosecutors filed terrorism charges Tuesday against the suspected New York City subway bomber, Akayed Ullah, saying he posted a taunt online aimed at President Trump before the attack in a tunnel beneath Times Square and then proclaimed “I did it for the Islamic State.”
A criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan charges Ullah with providing material support to a terrorist group, using a weapon of mass destruction, bombing a public place, destruction of property by means of fire or explosive, and use of a destructive device during a crime of violence.
The 27-year-old is an immigrant from Bangladesh who came to the United States in 2011, fueling the Trump administration’s argument that Monday’s attack is proof the country is too lax in how it allows immigrants to enter. According to the criminal complaint, Ullah’s radicalization began in at least 2014, as he viewed Islamic State propaganda, including a video urging followers to carry out attacks close to home if they were unable to go overseas.
Police say Ullah detonated a pipe bomb affixed to his clothes while walking down a crowded commuter tunnel in Times Square during the Monday morning rush hour. “The location and timing of his planned attack was no accident, and his motivation was no mystery,” Joon H. Kim, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a news conference about the charges Tuesday.
The 10-page criminal complaint also reveals some of what Ullah told investigators after the attack. While in Bellevue Hospital receiving treatment for his injuries, Ullah declared he acted on behalf of the Islamic State, and investigators found a passport in his name with handwritten notations, including: “O AMERICA, DIE IN YOUR RAGE,” according to the complaint.
Those statements are just a fraction of the incriminating comments Ullah has made to investigators, according to law enforcement officials.
Ullah, who remains hospitalized, told police he was angry about decades of U.S. policies toward Muslim countries, officials said. Investigators believe he built the bomb at his home and used Christmas lights and a battery to detonate the device, according to the complaint.
On Monday morning, Ullah was on his way to carry out the attack when he opened Facebook and posted a message for the president, federal authorities alleged. “Trump you failed to protect your nation,” Ullah wrote, according to the complaint. Kim declined to elaborate on whether there was anything specific the president had said or done that Ullah found objectionable.
Ullah also posted a statement on Facebook aimed at telling other Islamic State supporters that he was carrying out the attack in the group’s name, the complaint continued.
Shortly before the federal charges were announced, New York City police officials said they had filed state terrorism charges against him, though those are expected to be dropped once the federal prosecution gets underway, according to officials.
Police officials in Bangladesh said Ullah is married to a woman who lives in Dhaka with their child. Saiful Islam, a counterterrorism official in Bangladesh, said Ullah’s wife and in-laws were questioned and later released Tuesday.
Police officials and neighbors said Ullah had returned to Bangladesh twice in the past few years. The first visit, in 2015, was for his wedding, according to people who live in the same building as his in-laws in Dhaka. He returned again in September 2016, leaving in October, according to Soheli Ferdousi, police spokeswoman. She did not elaborate on the reason for his second visit.
Abul Hossain, a lawyer and neighbor of Ullah’s in-laws, recalled the wedding two years ago as “a simple ceremony.”
“I saw him in the mosque several times,” Hossain said. “He looked gentle to me.”
When his homemade bomb exploded Monday, it inflicted far more self-harm than to anyone else, according to officials. Three commuters suffered minor injuries, police said. Security video from the subway tunnel shows a man walking down the passageway who is suddenly knocked to the ground by a blast emanating from his lower torso. The video shows other commuters running from the scene.
Ullah’s family issued a statement saying they are “heartbroken by this attack on our city today,” but also criticizing law enforcement’s treatment of the family.
“Today we have seen our children, as young as 4 years old, held out in the cold, detained as their parents were questioned,” the family said in its statement, which was released through the Council on American-Islamic Relations of New York. “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 judicial system.”
Officials said Ullah came to the United States on a type of visa for relatives of people already living legally in the country, prompting Trump to repeat his call for legislative reforms.
“There have now been two terrorist attacks in New York City in recent weeks carried out by foreign nationals, here on green cards,” he said Tuesday, referring to a deadly truck attack in Manhattan on Oct. 31. “The first attacker came through the visa lottery and the second through chain migration. We’re going to end both of them. The lottery system and chain migration — we’re going to end them fast.”
“Congress must get involved immediately, and they are involved immediately, and I can tell you we have tremendous support. They will be ended,” he added.
L. Francis Cissna, the head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told reporters at the White House that visa lotteries are vulnerable to exploitation by terrorists and susceptible to fraud, and “for that reason, regardless of when the person became radicalized, I just want that door shut.”
Trump has endorsed legislation, introduced over the summer by Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and David Perdue (Ga.), that seeks to reduce — from 1 million to 500,000 — the annual distribution of green cards. As part of that, they want to create a point system, based on factors such as job skills, education and English proficiency, for ranking those who apply for green cards. It also would end the visa diversity lottery that awards about 50,000 green cards each year.
Speaking Tuesday in Baltimore, Attorney General Jeff Sessions also blamed Monday’s incident on “failed immigration policies.”
“An individual won the lottery in Bangladesh,” he said. “He came here. He then, through the chain migration process, brought his sister. And she brought her son, 20 years old, and he’s the one that attempted to blow up the subway. This is the system that’s operating today.”
Sessions said the United States admitted 9.3 million people between 2005 and 2016 under what he characterized as “chain migration,” urging Congress to end it.
“Each of those people may be able to sponsor further relatives as well,” he said.
Sessions also told reporters that of the 500 people the Department of Justice has prosecuted for terrorism-related offenses since 9/11, “more than 75 percent were foreign-born.”
The attorney general said current U.S. immigration policies had allowed one million or more people to enter the United States from what he called “terrorism-based countries, where terrorism exists.”
“This overwhelms the ability of the FBI to monitor them,” Sessions said. “It’s a myth out there that we have the power and unlimited resources to surveil hundreds of thousands of people, even know who to surveil.”
John Miller, who leads the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism work, said terrorism threats are “a fact of life, whether you’re in New York or London or Paris. The question is can it happen here, and the answer is it can happen anywhere.”
Miller said investigators have collected remnants of the bomb to better understand its construction. He said Ullah used Velcro and zip ties to attach the device to his clothing. The NYPD and the FBI appealed for any witnesses to the explosion to come forward and said commuters should expect to see additional security around the city’s transportation network.
Officials said that the attack could have had a much greater impact if the bomb had went off with the intended force.
“What we saw yesterday was something that could’ve been far, far worse,” Miller said Tuesday on “CBS This Morning.”
Azad Majumder in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Nick Miroff and Anne Gearan contributed to this report.
This article was written by Devlin Barrett and Mark Berman from The Washington Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.