US files terror charges against New York 'subway bomber'


New York (AFP)

The United States on Tuesday unveiled federal terrorism charges against the Bangladeshi driver who detonated a bomb in a New York subway passageway, after allegedly being inspired by the Islamic State group and self-radicalizing as early as 2014.

Akayed Ullah, 27, who migrated to the United States in 2011 and lived in Brooklyn, was hit with a five-count indictment, which includes providing material support to IS and use of weapons of mass destruction, according to the complaint.

He is expected to appear before a judge, most likely by video link from his hospital bed, either Tuesday or Wednesday.

Ullah wounded himself and three other people in the blast, which took place in the subway tunnels below the Port Authority bus terminal, not far from iconic Times Square, on Monday.

The explosion, which sowed panic and disrupted the morning commute during the busy Christmas tourism season, came six weeks after another immigrant, also reportedly inspired by the IS group, killed eight people on a bike path.

President Donald Trump has leapt on both attacks to reiterate calls for tighter US immigration, demanding an end to the visa programs that admitted Ullah and the Uzbek bike path attacker, although both appear to have only radicalized after emigrating.

"We will end them fast. Congress must get involved immediately," Trump said Tuesday. "These attacks underscore the dangers we face from around the globe."

- Chilling notes -

Ullah allegedly built the pipe bomb in his Brooklyn apartment a week before the attack, packing the device with metal screws and Christmas tree lights, and allegedly admitted planning the would-be suicide bombing for several weeks.

He strapped the pipe bomb to his chest, selected the time and location to "maximize human casualties," admitted to being inspired by IS and wanted to avenge US policies in the Middle East, Manhattan's acting US Attorney Joon Kim told reporters.

En route to carrying out the attempted attack, he allegedly posted on Facebook, "Trump you failed to protect your nation," according to court documents.

The chilling handwritten note: "O America die in your rage," was found in a passport in Ullah's name, along with metal pipes, wires and screws in his Brooklyn home, Kim told reporters.

- Under radar -

But his bomb failed to detonate as planned, leaving him with burns to his torso and hands, officials said. The three victims suffered minor complaints such as ringing in their ears and headaches.

Ullah began to radicalize in 2014, three years after moving to the United States, by watching IS propaganda online before starting to research how to make bombs a year ago, officials said.

But he operated under the radar, his name never appearing on any watch lists, and he was not previously known to law enforcement in either the United States or his Muslim-majority homeland, officials said.

In Bangladesh, counter-terrorism officers questioned his 25-year-old wife, whom he married in 2016 and visited in September after the birth of their son, officials said.

Police raided the family home in Dhaka, but neither Ullah's wife, Jannatul Ferdous Piya, nor her father are under any suspicion, officer Saiful Islam told AFP.

Mofazzal Hossain, caretaker of the family apartment in Dhaka, described him as "pious and a gentleman."

"He used to pray in the local mosque five times a day. He would urge us to pray and do good work," Hossain told AFP.

Dhaka police were investigating whether he could have been radicalized in Bangladesh, which is waging its own war against extremism and where IS claimed an assault in July 2016 that killed 22 hostages, 18 of them foreigners.

The FBI on Tuesday urged New Yorkers to remain vigilant during the busy holiday season in a city that has considered itself a perennial target since the Al-Qaeda hijackings brought down the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

The New York Times reported that Ullah appears to have prayed regularly at the Masjid Nur Al Islam mosque, and from 2012 to 2015, held a license to drive for-hire vehicles.

His family issued a statement through the Council on American-Islamic Relations saying they were "heartbroken" by the attack and the allegations against Ullah.