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New York officials call bus terminal explosion 'attempted terror attack'; man in custody

By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN

(CNN) -- A man wearing a homemade pipe bomb detonated his explosive in a walkway at the Port Authority Bus Terminal near Times Square on Monday, injuring three people and causing chaos in one of the busiest commuter hubs in the city, officials said.

Authorities called the explosion in the terminal at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue an "attempted terrorist attack" and police identified the suspect in custody as Akayed Ullah, 27. They said the attack appears to be isolated.

Latest developments

Motive: Ullah told investigators that he carried out the attack because of recent Israeli actions in Gaza, a law enforcement source said.

More on suspect: He is of Bangladeshi descent and lives in Brooklyn, two law enforcement sources told CNN. Ullah held a Taxi & Limousine Commission license from March 2012 to March 2015, after which the license was not renewed, TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg said. It's unclear "whether he drove for any particular base, or whether he simply got the license but didn't drive at all," Fromberg said.

What his neighbor says: Alan Butrico owns a Brooklyn building next to the home where he says Ullah lives with his family. He told CNN that Ullah lives in the basement, while his sister and brother live above him. "He wasn't friendly at all. The family was very quiet themselves. They don't talk to nobody. They just stay there," he said, adding that his tenants reported hearing "screaming and yelling" coming from Ullah's home the last two nights. The tenants did not call police, he said.

Type of device: Ullah wore an "improvised low-tech explosive device attached to his body," which he intentionally detonated, Police Commissioner James O'Neill said. The device, a pipe bomb, was attached to Ullah with Velcro and zip ties, said John Miller, NYPD deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism.

How bomb was made: According to a senior New York law enforcement official and a city official being briefed on the investigation, Ullah told police he made the device at his workplace. It's unclear where he's employed. Added Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a news conference, "Anyone can go on the Internet and download garbage and vileness on how to put together an amateur-level explosive device, and that is the reality that we live with."

Being treated: Ullah is now at Bellevue Hospital, where he is being treated for lacerations and burns to his hands and abdomen, New York City Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

Other injuries minor: Two victims at Mount Sinai West and one at Mount Sinai Queens are being treated for headaches and ringing in the ears, Nigro said.

Suspect affiliations: It's unclear if Ullah is linked to any terror organization, but when asked if Ullah was connected to ISIS, O'Neill responded only that Ullah "did make statements, but we will not talk about that."

Location and time: The blast detonated around 7:20 a.m. ET in an underground walkway connecting two subway lines, officials said.

Terror links?

Mayor Bill de Blasio called the incident an "attempted terrorist attack," while Police Commissioner James O'Neill called it a "terror-related incident." Cuomo said the perpetrator used an amateur "effectively low-tech device."

"There are also no credible and specific threats against New York City at this time," de Blasio said.

The A, C and E subway lines were evacuated, NYPD Sgt. Brendan Ryan said. The subway entrance on Eighth Avenue is closed.

On grainy surveillance footage, commuters are seen walking through a tunnel when a burst of smoke erupts into the hallway, quickly filling it. Commuters flinch and take cover. When the smoke clears, a man can be seen lying on the ground in the hallway.

Aerial footage from the scene showed police cruisers, emergency vehicles and hundreds of police and fire personnel in the street outside the terminal.

"Could have been a lot worse," a federal law enforcement source told CNN.

It's possible the device either malfunctioned or did not go off the way it was supposed to, according to one NYPD source. According to O'Neill, police are trying to determine if the hallway is where Ullah intended to detonate the device.

Members of the NYPD forensics team were seen on Eighth Avenue, carrying a large brown bag, which they placed into a police van.

'Just a lot of chaos'

Francisco Ramirez said he was exiting a bus when he heard two blasts, even though he was wearing headphones.

"From what I saw it sounded like it came from the subway, but I'm just guessing," he said. "It was two distinct explosions seconds from each other. As I was making my way toward the outside, I kept getting shoved by cops and there were cops at every entrance blocking and there was police and SWAT everywhere.

"It was scary. It was just a lot of chaos but I didn't see any injuries."

Marlyn Yu Sherlock was at a retail store on the main floor of the terminal when people began flooding out of the subway entrance, "screaming, running in panic," she said.

"The PA system was still blaring Christmas carols," Sherlock said. "It took about four minutes before men in black cop uniforms started shooing people out of Port Authority. As I walked further away from the building, I kept asking the heavily armed cops what it was. They said 'suspicious package.'"

The Port Authority Bus Terminal was built in 1950 and expanded in 1979. It accommodates 220,000 passenger trips a day.

Previous attack

The incident comes a few weeks after a deadly terror attack in Lower Manhattan.

A man was charged with killing eight people and injuring a dozen others as he drove a pickup truck down a bicycle path near the World Trade Center on Halloween. He was arrested after the truck hit a school bus, stopping it in its tracks. He exited the vehicle and an officer shot him.

The suspect, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, was indicted last month on murder and terror-related charges, the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York said. Saipov pleaded not guilty to 22 federal counts.

It was the deadliest terror attack in New York City since the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.

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