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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Family of NYC terror suspect 'heart-broken' by attack

The suspect told the police he wanted to avenge US air strikes on ISIL and was inspired by Christmas terror plots in Europe

Police respond to an explosion at the Port Authority Bus Terminal on December 11, 2017 in New York. Bryan R Smith / AFP
Police respond to an explosion at the Port Authority Bus Terminal on December 11, 2017 in New York. Bryan R Smith / AFP

The family of the suspect in the New York underground bombing have spoken of their sadness at the violence inflicted on the city, as investigations continue in the US and Bangladesh into what drove Akayed Ullah to detonate a homemade pipe bomb.

Law enforcement sources believe he was motivated by US attacks on ISIL in the Middle East and selected his target because of Christmas posters on display. It comes soon after the terrorist group called for attacks on New York during the holiday season.

Mr Ullah remains in hospital after the Monday attack and is being treated for burns and lacerations caused by the faulty device.

His family expressed their shock but also accused police of a heavy-handed response.

“We are heart-broken by the violence that was targeted at our city today and by the allegations being made against a member of our family,” they said in a statement. “But we’re also outraged by the behaviour of the law enforcement officials who held children as small as four years old out in the cold and who pulled a teenager out of high school classes to interrogate him without a lawyer, without his parents.

“These are not the sorts of actions that we expect from our justice system, and we have every confidence that our justice system will find the truth behind this attack and that we will, in the end, be able to learn what occurred today.”

Mr Ullah, 27, lived with his mother, sister and two brothers in Brooklyn. He has been in the US since arriving from Bangladesh in 2011.

Their home was searched within hours of the detonation. Security cameras picked up Mr Ullah travelling from Brooklyn to Manhattan on Monday morning.

He carried what police described as a crude explosive device, attached to his body with Velcro and zip ties.

It was constructed from a 12-inch pipe, filled with explosive powder made from match heads. A nine-volt battery connected to a broken Christmas tree light served as a detonator. The materials are typical of those suggested by bomb-making guides which are disseminated online.

However, police believe the detonation blasted off the sealed ends of the tube, rather than fragmenting the pipe itself into deadly shrapnel.

Three other people were slightly injured when the bomb went off in an underground pedestrian walkway connected Times Square subway station with a second station serving the Port Authority bus terminal at around 7.20am.

The area is one of Manhattan’s busiest transport hubs with almost half a million people passing through the two sites every day. Although subway schedules were disrupted, city officials said they were relieved the damage toll was not worse.

Police sources said they believe Mr Ullah was radicalised by ISIL propaganda and cited deaths of Muslims in the Middle East during questioning. During hours of interviews, he also reportedly said he used bomb-making instructions published by Al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine.

The White House flagged up Mr Ullah’s status as an immigrant on an F-43 immigrant visa, which is issued to the children of people who have the right to live in the US because they are related to a US citizen. He subsequently received a green card and became a legal permanent resident.

Donald Trump used his status to remind voters of the importance of his travel ban and demand further action in securing the nation.

“First and foremost, as I have been saying since I first announced my candidacy for president, America must fix its lax immigration system, which allows far too many dangerous, inadequately vetted people to access our country,” he said. “Today’s terror suspect entered our country through extended-family chain migration, which is incompatible with national security.”

The holiday season — when tourists flock to New York for its winter markets, high-end shopping on Fifth Avenue and New Year’s Eve celebrations — always brings heightened security throughout the city.

The threat was highlighted two weeks ago when ISIL supporters shared a message calling for attacks on New York. It featured an image of Santa Claus with a box of dynamite looking over a crowd in Times Square with the legend: “We meet at Christmas in New York … soon.”

Law enforcement officials interpreted it as a reminder of the constant threat, rather than evidence of a specific plot. So far they believe Mr Ullah was acting alone and was not in contact with overseas terrorist groups.

Meanwhile, police in Bangladesh have questioned Mr Ullah’s wife, who lives in the capital Dhaka with the couple’s six-month old baby. A police official said,

“We have found his wife and in-laws in Dhaka. We are interviewing them.”

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New York blast: Man inspired by ISIL in custody

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The Bangladesh police said Mr Ullah did not have a criminal record.

"So far, his name is not on our wide-range list of radicalised persons or members of terror groups, both from Bangladesh and outside," said senior counter terrorism police officer Sanwar Hossain. "We are trying to gather more details."

Mr Ullah arrived in the US seven years ago as the member of a family that hails from Sandwip, an island off the coast of the southern port city of Chittagong, but his father had migrated to the capital Dhaka some 30 years ago. Police know little else about his early life at this stage.