New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said this morning that a suspect being sought by the FBI in connection with a Saturday night explosion in Chelsea must be caught before officials are “able to draw further conclusions” about the bombing.
The FBI issued a wanted poster for Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, in connection with the bomb placed in a Dumpster outside 135 West 23rd Street that injured 29 people.
Rahami, a U.S. citizen born in Afghanistan, was last known to be living in Elizabeth, N.J., where a backpack containing up to five devices was discovered in a trash bin near a pub next to commuter train tracks. One of the devices went off when a robot was attempting to defuse it. “The robot that went in to disarm it, cut a wire and it exploded,” Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage said.
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De Blasio said Rahami’s description — 5’6″ tall, 200 pounds, brown hair and facial hair, considered armed and dangerous — has been sent out to New Yorkers via the city’s cell phone alert system.
Law enforcement officials told CNN that the Saturday morning New Jersey charity race bombing, the Manhattan bombing, a pressure-cooker device found a few blocks from the Chelsea attack, and the Elizabeth train tracks bombs leads them to believe a terror cell may be at work in the area.
De Blasio told MSNBC “we do not yet know if this was a lone wolf or if it was something involving additional individuals.”
“This individual is the key, getting him in for questioning. I think that’s going to tell us a lot as to whether it was a lone wolf or something bigger,” the mayor said. “We have to assume, since we, again, believe there’s the direct involvement in a bombing, we have to assume he would be well armed. In this city, of course, we have our police on alert. We have our critical response command, which is over 500 anti-terror officers, on alert. Very heavily armed and ready. A lot of police presence in New York City today, in part because of the United Nations General Assembly, but also to be preventative.”
Speeches from world leaders begin Tuesday in the General Assembly.
A car was stopped by federal officials at the Verrazano Bridge on Sunday night, and the five occupants inside were taken into questioning. “Can’t go into a lot of detail on that, but I can safely say that that stop of that vehicle was helpful and important,” de Blasio said. “And a number of other efforts were made overnight to locate information. That’s what allowed us to zero in on this individual.”
“We’re not at a conclusive point yet, but more and more indications suggest a connection between New York and New Jersey,” the mayor added. “…But we don’t draw conclusions until we have the evidence that we believe is accurate that then we can give to the public.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this morning that the devices used in all of the incidents “weren’t identical but certain technology was the same, certain chemicals were the same which started to fuel a theory that there was a common group behind the bombs.”
“Some of the bombs were not detonated. Those bombs often provide more evidence. You can get fingerprints off a bomb that’s not detonated. You can get DNA off a bomb that’s not detonated. So that really drove the investigation,” Cuomo told MSNBC.
He added that as Rahami is sought, “we’re trying to say at the same time that as the extent of terrorism is to disrupt, is to intimidate, is to coerce, they’re not successful.”
“New York is up and running, subways are running, the roads are open. 29 people were hurt, thankfully no fatalities. But to the extent they were trying to disrupt New York it didn’t happen and we’re going to have more security personnel than ever assembled over this next week during the UN General Assembly.”
The governor said he didn’t believe in “sugar-coating information” — Cuomo said Sunday there was no evidence of foreign terror links, though “today’s information suggests it may be foreign-related, but we’ll see where it goes.”
“In terms of is this the end of it? I mean, that’s the $64,000 question, right? As governor of New York my operating premise is anytime, anywhere, 7 days a week, you could have an incident like this,” Cuomo continued. “…The only safe, prudent operating protocol is you have to be in a constant state of readiness. And that in some ways I believe is a new normal for us when it comes to security. But it’s also the truth. New York is a target. Why? Because it’s New York. It’s the media capital. That’s why 9/11 happened here. There are a lot of reasons why New York is a target. And if you don’t accept that premise I think you’re fooling yourself.”
Cuomo reflected on a visit to Israel two decades ago where he was told “told by a very wise leader in Israel that was at that time experiencing almost weekly terrorist attacks, and he said, you know, one day this will happen to the United States.”
“And they win by disrupting. Israel, as you know, it fascinated me at the time how you could have an incident in the morning and three hours later you’d go to that scene and there would be no sign of the incident,” he said. “It’s almost as if they were purposefully moving past it quickly. Because it had become such a constant and frequent occurrence. So we’re not there, obviously.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said this morning that President Obama, who is in New York to begin his UN meetings, “has been receiving updates on this situation overnight and already this morning.”
Asked on MSNBC if Obama was planning to address the country on the weekend of attacks, Earnest replied, “Well, look, I think that the president will have an opportunity to talk later today and I’ll let him speak for himself.”
Earnest cautioned that people can’t give ISIS “the narrative victory of suggesting that every Muslim is responsible for this kind of terrorism.”
“We can’t give into this narrative that ISIL wants to build up that the United States is at war with Islam. That is false. That is not true. And we can’t — with some of this rhetoric, we can’t allow that kind of narrative victory to be given to them,” he said. “We need to push back against that.”