Return to Transcripts main page


Explosion in New York City; Officials to Give Explosion Update; New York City Press Conference. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired December 11, 2017 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a question for the police. That's not something for me to answer.

So, you know, it is New York City. Commuters, they are, in some ways, used to dealing with security, you know, things that happen like this in the city. New Yorkers, you keep hearing it over -- over and over are a resilient group of people. And that's what folks are dealing with this morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Again, we're looking at live pictures from outside Port Authority right now. We are waiting for this news conference, which is about to begin.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Let's bring back in our law enforcement analyst. Tom Fuentes is our senior law enforcement analyst, also former assistant director of the FBI. Joseph Giacalone is back with us, former NYPD sergeant.

Tom, to you.

We're waiting to hear from Commissioner O'Neil, others. I don't know if we'll hear from the mayor of New York City. We very well may. Four injuries at this point in time.

How close of a near miss, Tom, was this?

TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think, Poppy, if it was detonated in a passageway, as we heard, then it probably would have the ability to touch a lot fewer people. So, yes, we have, you know, it sounds like four people injured, including the person with the bomb. But that's not like standing in one of the lines where people are waiting to board a bus or a train --

HARLOW: Right.

FUENTES: Or gathering to buy a ticket. So it sounds like it went off prematurely. It wasn't intended for that spot, because it didn't inflict probably as much damage as the bomber intended it to.

BERMAN: And, Tom, just what does that tell you about this suspect, then, that he wasn't able to control this device he'd obviously constructed to perhaps commit something much worse?

FUENTES: Well, obviously, the device itself sounds like it's pretty amateurish in the first place. But anybody can make one of these bombs. On the Internet they can find all kinds of formulas. If it was a pipe bomb, or how to make a vest, or how to use simple chemicals that you'd be able to buy at a home supply store, as opposed to military grade chemical explosives, PETN, for example, or the fact that this person did not have an AK-47 with him, where he could have inflicted, you know, dozens, if not hundreds of casualties.

So it does indicate that it's probably a pretty amateurish operation. Hopefully, only one person and it's not connected to a larger group who are attending multiple attacks based on this plan.

HARLOW: A similarity, Joseph, that we're seeing between this attack and the one a month, a month and a half ago on the west side highway in New York City is that the attacker and suspected attacker are alive. And so the hope is here that this man will talk to authorities and give answers.

BERMAN: One thing we do know is the Department of Homemade Security, the secretary, has been briefed on this.


BERMAN: We know the president has been briefed on this.

You know, Joe Giacalone, you're with us right now.

What will the federal role be here in working with local law enforcement?

JOE GIACALONE, FORMER NYPD SERGEANT: Well, if it's terrorism, the FBI will be -- have the lead investigation in this. They'll bring all of the federal assets to bear on this. The NYPD and Joint Terrorism Task Force will be working closely with their federal partners in order to, you know, solve this case conclusively and make sure that there are no other additional threats and to find out how he made this bomb, if somebody made it for him and then gave it to him and that's why he set it off by accident. We don't know these things just yet, so they will find out in the next couple of hours. And to see what even what the presser, you know, comes up with.

Like I said, I'm just interested in where he's -- where he's from, who he's been hanging out with, and this is what the police would be doing right mow.

HARLOW: Tom, if you were one of the journalists that -- like Jason who are down there awaiting this press conference, what would be your first question to authorities?

FUENTES: Have we figured out if this person was alone? Are there other people involved in the plot? Could there be other devices still hidden in different parts of the Port Authority facility or any other facilities targeted, such as Penn Station or Grand Central or Times Square itself? So that would be my concern, that is it a certainly person and the intent, or that aspect of it, is contained and not going to expand to be somewhere else also.

BERMAN: You know, Joe, how hard is it to secure a crime scene like this? I mean this is many, many stories deep into the ground here.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

BERMAN: And it's spread out over a several block area between Port Authority and Times Square.

GIACALONE: Well, certainly, and you even have the -- what we call extend crime scenes, how the perpetrator got to the actual crime scene, because he could have thrown something in a garbage pail or done something else along the way. So these are the other things that they have to look for to make sure that there aren't any other devices.

So they 're going to have to carefully go through each one of the garbage pails on the way there. They're going to have to, you know, hopefully be able to coordinate with that surveillance video to see if they actually saw him do something and then be able to maybe target that specific area. But they're going to have to follow each inch of that path that he took, and from wherever he took it from. And that's what the -- this crime scene is, believe it or not, is pretty massive because of the fact that it's so -- you know, the corridors are intertwining and they move all around.

[09:35:07] So it's going to be an interesting thing, but, you know what, the NYPD has done many of these kinds of things before, so they're up to the task of this, and I'm not worried about that.

HARLOW: All right, gentlemen, stand by with us.

We keep getting these two-minute warnings --

BERMAN: Right.

HARLOW: Which means this press conference is about to begin any moment.

As we wait, if you're just joining us, the breaking news, let's go to our Brynn Gingras, who's been working her sources.

Brynn, can you just update people on what we know and what you're still trying to figure out at this point in time?


Yes, what we know right now is that a man, during the rush hour traffic this morning in New York City, he attempted to detonate or did detonate some sort of advice that he had on himself. We know from sources that the device didn't go off as planned or it malfunctioned in some way. He injured himself during that detonation. And we know that he has

been sent to the hospital. We also know from other -- of my colleagues reporting, that people have started to -- the process of interviewing him, talking to him, trying to learn more about who he is.

We also know that three other people were injured when this device did explode in some sort of fashion. We don't know the status of those injuries. We are hearing, though, not life-threatening. We don't know sort of where those injuries were.

Another part that we know is that it happened in the Port Authority. Now where exactly in the Port Authority, because, again, we're talking about a very large area of a building and really underground tunnels, we're not exactly sure right now. So we'll learn that as well.

But the biggest things at this point since that suspect is in custody is who this person is. We are hearing about names and where he might be from, where he might have lived most recently. But, certainly, we're waiting for this news conference, which you guys see, people are now coming to the podium.


GINGRAS: We should learn a lot more.

BERMAN: All right, let's -- there's some activity right there.

HARLOW: There's the mayor.

BERMAN: There's the mayor, Bill de Blasio --

HARLOW: The governor.

BERMAN: The governor, Andrew Cuomo, and the commissioner, Jim O'Neill.

Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. All right. (INAUDIBLE). Everyone set here? All right. Police commissioner?


Everybody's got sound? Everybody's good?

All right, good morning.

At 7:30 this -- approximately 7:20 this morning, we had a terror- related incident in the subway in a passageway between 42nd and 8th and 42nd and 7th. The governor's going to speak. The mayor's going to speak. I'm going to give you some more details. Dan Nigro is going to talk about some of the minor injuries and then Joe Lhota is going to talk about subway service.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: Thank you. Good morning to everyone.

The first news this morning was obviously very frightening and disturbing when you hear about a bomb in the subway station, which is in many ways one of our worst nightmares. The reality turns out better than the initial expectation and fear. You had a number of law enforcement agencies that did a fantastic job. The NYPD the PAPD, the Port Authority Police, the MTA Police, they were all on it. You see behind us representatives of all the agencies coordinated. The assistant director of the FBI, Bill Sweeney, is here. So everyone worked together.

There was an explosion. The police commissioner will go over the details. It was a minor -- it was an effectively low-tech device. There were several injuries, we hope, minor. And it was handled extraordinarily well.

There was a disruption in train service and bus service while a sweep was being done. That's all being restored now, as you'll hear from Joe Lhota. The subway station -- subway service, except at 42nd street, is being restored. The Port Authority bus terminal has reopened so buses will be running once again.

This is New York. The reality is that we are a target by many who would like to make a statement against democracy, against freedom. We have the Statue of Liberty in our harbor, and that makes us an international target. We understand that. With the Internet now, 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.

The counter reality is that this is New York and we all pitch together and we are a savvy people and we keep our eyes open and that's what see something, say something is all about. And we have the best law enforcement on the globe. And we're all working together extraordinarily well.

[09:40:10] I want to thank the mayor and the mayor's office for doing a great job this morning. And we will go forward and we'll go forward together. All the service will resume. Let's go back to work. We're not going to allow them to disrupt us. That's exactly what they want. And that is exactly what they're not going to get.

Thank you.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: Thank you very much, governor.

Let's be clear, as New Yorkers, our lives revolve around the subways. When we hear of an attack in the subway, it's incredibly unsettling. And let's be also clear, this was an attempted terrorist attack. Thank God the perpetrator did not achieve his ultimate goals. Thank God our first responders were there so quickly to address the situation, to make sure people were safe. Thank God the only injuries that we know of at this point were minor.

But I agree 100 percent with the governor's point, that the choice of New York is always for a reason, because we're a beacon to the world and we actually show that society of many faiths and many backgrounds can work and we showed that democracy can work. And our enemies want to undermine that. The terrorists want to undermine that. So they yearn to attack New York City.

But New York City is blessed with the finest law enforcement. And what our first responders did today was another example of the ability to address a situation quickly, contain it, and make sure people are safe. Let me just say, it's very important for my fellow New Yorkers to

know, there are no additional known incidents at this time. There are no additional known activities. We will wait for a fuller investigation, of course, by the NYPD and the MTA Police and Port Authority Police and FBI. But at this point in time, all we know of is one individual who, thank God, was unsuccessful in his aims. There are also no credible and specific threats against New York City at this time. But we will give you more information, of course, as the investigation unfolds.

The first responders responded brilliantly. Now the mission of the NYPD is to secure all major transit hubs and major sites in this city. So you'll see expanded NYPD presence today all over the city. New Yorkers have come to understand, when you see our specialized forces, when you see those long guns, and those highly trained officers, that's something that should be reassuring to you. It means NYPD is on full alert and out in force and that means you're safe.

Finally, I want to say, the governor invoked that phrase, we can't say it enough times, when you see something, say something. This is the difference maker. We've seen it time and again. When an everyday New Yorkers sees something that doesn't make sense, hears something, sees a package, gets a feeling that something's wrong, don't hold it to yourself, tell a police officer. They are the ones who can take the information and act on it. It's so important to speak up because you could be saving many lives by doing so.

I'll finish by saying this. This is the most resilient place on earth. We've proven it time and time again. We've proved it just over a month ago. We proved it on 9/11. We're going to prove it again today. The terrorists will not win. We're going to keep beginning New Yorkers. Let's get back to work.

Thank you.

O'NEILL: All right, these are the preliminary facts. It just happened a couple of hours ago, so you have to understand, these are preliminary facts.

At approximately 7:20 in a below-ground walkway which connects the IND line at 42 and 8th Avenue with the IRT line at 42 and 7, and that's the shuttle at Times Square and the 1, 2, and 3 train, police were called to a reported explosion. Responding units found an injured 27- year-old male. We've identified him as Akayed Ullah, a-k-a-y-e-d u-l- l-a-h. He had burns and wounds to his body.

A preliminary investigation at the scene indicates this male was wearing an improvised low-tech explosive device attached to his body. He intentionally detonated that device. Looks like there were three other people in the immediate area who also sustained minor injuries, but Dan Nigro is going to talk about that. The suspect was placed in custody and transported to Bellevue Hospital.

[09:45:00] Immediate police response to the scene included members of the transit bureau, emergency service division, bomb squad, counterterrorism, MTA Police, state troopers, and the FBI's Joint Terrific Task Force. In addition, the NYPD's strategic response group and critical response command were assigned to other key transportation hubs in other locations throughout the city as a precautionary measure. This incident was captured on transit system video.

Our further review and interview of witnesses is underway. A thorough background investigation into Akayed Ullah is being conducted by the Joint Terrorist Task Force. We are asking anyone who may have any information about this individual or incident to call the terror hotline, and that's 888-NYC-SAFE.

Just as the governor said, and as the mayor said, we are New Yorkers, we don't live in fear. If you see something that doesn't look right, you have an obligation to come forward, call 911, flag down a cop and give us a chance to investigate it.

Dan Nigro is going to talk about the injuries now.



As the police commissioner mentioned, the perpetrator detonated the device. It caused burns to the hands and the abdomen, also lacerations. Our EMS personnel removed the perpetrator to Bellevue Hospital, where they're being treated now. Three other people that were in proximity of the explosion removed themselves. Two of them took themselves to Mt. Sinai West, one to Mt. Sinai Queens, all with minor injuries that are consistent with being in the area of the explosion. That is, ringing in the ears and headaches. So we have three minor injuries to people that were in that corridor and serious injuries to the perpetrator.

That's it at this time.

JOE LHOTA, MTA CHAIRMAN (ph): Thank you. As the commissioners have both said and the mayor and the governor have both said, earlier this morning we received an alert of the explosion that happened in the tunnel and immediately the MTA and the Transit Authority shut down the lines on the 8th Avenue line, the A, the C, the E. Many of them were re-routed.

I will tell you right now, they are all back. The only disruption we have right now is that on both the 7th Avenue line, as well as the 8th Avenue line, we're bypassing the Times Square 42nd Street corridor and also the shuttle between Grand Central and Times Square is currently shut down. We expect it to be back up and normal by this evening's rush hour.

I do want to also state that on November 6th, just a month or so ago, we had a tabletop exercise with the NYPD to coordinate our efforts in the event that something like this ever happened. And the result of that was today, in less than two hours, we are back, totally up to speed and getting our passengers around.

I want to especially thank not only the NYPD but also our passengers and our customers for their patience.

Thank you.

O'NEILL: All right, we're going to take some questions.

QUESTION: Commissioner, any history --

QUESTION: Did the suspect utter anything before he blew the device --

O'NEILL: The question is, did the suspect utter anything before he detonated the device? Part of the investigation.

QUESTION: Commissioner --

QUESTION: Where was the device located?

QUESTION: Were the (INAUDIBLE) the potential target for years. I don't know if (INAUDIBLE), but typically have police on platforms and on trains. But there are a lot of these corridors connecting lines where you don't see (INAUDIBLE). Does this (INAUDIBLE) out a potential security weakness something that might interest (INAUDIBLE)?

O'NEILL: All right, the question is that transit seems to be an apparent target. Are there any weaknesses downstairs?

Listen we have almost 3,000 transit cops that work in the subway system every day. We have the strategic response group. We have the critical response command. All parts of this systems are patrolling.


QUESTION: Commissioner, is there -- can you describe this as a belt, a backpack, or a vest? A little more about the device. And in the video, what does he look like he's doing? Does he look like he's waiting for a big crowd to gather? What is he doing?

O'NEILL: All right, the question was, what does the device look like and what was the subject doing before he detonated? John Miller can talk about that.

JOHN MILLER: Without getting into too many specifics, the devise is based on a pipe bomb. It was affixed to his person with a combination of Velcro and zip ties. The bomb squad is in the process now, along with the FBI special agent bomb technicians, of processing that crime scene with others. We're going to gather up those pieces and we'll have a better idea of what the device was put together with and what was inside it.

QUESTION: John, any history -- any history -- any history on perp?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One at a time. One at a time.

QUESTION: Any -- any history on the perp?

O'NEILL: Yes, we're not going to go into that right now.

QUESTION: Where --

QUESTION: Did he get to the --

O'NEILL: Hold on. Right here. Juliette. Hold on. One at a time. Hold on.


QUESTION: Did he detonate it himself and was it done purposely at that time (ph)?

O'NEILL: That's -- Juliette, the question is, did he detonate it himself? In the video you see him walking down a corridor. That's part of the investigation. We don't know that to be a fact just yet.

[09:50:08] Right behind Juliette.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) nationality.

O'NEILL: We're working on that right now.

QUESTION: Commissioner?

O'NEILL: Yes, right here.

QUESTION: Is there a reason why we're seeing the incident, weeks ago, this incident more now and we've gone years and years and years in New York since 9/11 with nothing and now all of a sudden it seems like we are seeing more incidents. Is there a reason what?

O'NEILL: There have been incidents, starting with 9/11, but I'll let John talk about that a little bit.

MILLER: All right. Sure.

So, as you all know, since the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, and well before that, New York City, as the media capital of the world, has been a target of terrorist attacks in the past. There was the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, the 9/11 attacks. And in the course of the post-9/11 world, as you're aware, there's also been approximately 26 plots that we can talk about that have been prevented through intelligence investigation and interdiction.

As you know, there was a Times Square bombing which failed to detonate. There was the Chelsea bombing from September 17th of '16. And then there's this incident. So clearly, due to an immense effort that is put into this by the FBI, the NYPD, our intelligence and counterterrorism people, and everybody else, it's an all hands effort, we have prevented a significant number of plots, a significant number of attacks. But this is 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.

QUESTION: Did he claim any connection to ISIS?

QUESTION: John, can you tell us -- can you tell us at all -- O'NEILL: All right, hold on. Hold on. Right here in the front row.

QUESTION: Did he claim any connection to ISIS?

O'NEILL: He did make statements, but the question is, did he claim connection to ISIS? He did make statements but we're not going to talk about that right now.

QUESTION: Is he --

O'NEILL: Right behind you. Hold on. Right behind you.

QUESTION: Where actually did the device go off in the passageway?

O'NEILL: It's at 42 and 8. He's walking eastbound to 42 and 7. So it's from this corner to Times Square underneath. If you've taken the subway, you know what the passageway I'm talking about.


O'NEILL: All right, hold on. In the back. Yes.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) this side runs 24 hours, seven days a week. I know you say you've got it all covered, but how can you possibly have it covered given its size and scope?

O'NEILL: All right, the question is the size of the subway system is massive, how can we have that system covered? Listen, this is going to take the 6 million people that ride the train every day. It's going to take everybody to have their eyes open, pay attention to what's going on. If you don't -- if you see something that makes you uncomfortable, make that phone call or talk to a cop. Give us a chance to investigate.

In the back.

QUESTION: We don't know -- the question is, was it intentional the spot where he detonated the explosive device? We don't know that yet.

In here, Miles?

QUESTION: Commissioner, I understand you (INAUDIBLE) homeland and how far have you been able to track the suspect at this point?

O'NEILL: Yes, we're not going to -- the question is that, are we at different locations with the -- in Brooklyn? I'm not going to go into that right now. We are -- this is part of what we do. We're investigating his background now to see what addresses he has and we'll fully investigate him and the locations where he lives.

QUESTION: Did he --

O'NEILL: All right, listen, we're going to come back to you later on with some more -- with some more information. Thank you very much.

Thanks. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll give you an update as things become

available. All right. Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, you've been watching a press conference here in New York City having to do with the terror related attack, that's what officials are now calling it, that took place underneath Port Authority this morning 7:20 a.m. A man wearing an improvised explosive device, that device went off at 7:20, injuring him and three other people.

They have identified the suspect, 27-year-old Akayed Ullah. We do not know anything else about him. However, when asked specifically, the police commissioner, if he uttered any allegiance to ISIS, the police commissioner said he did make a statement but we're not going to talk about that right now.

HARLOW: Right.

Some of the other things we've learned. What was this device? The police likened it to a pipe bomb, said that it was affixed to his person, to his body, with Velcro and zip ties. Also you have officials saying that this was a fairly elementary device, effectively a low- tech device.

BERMAN: And I just want to add, very importantly, they made clear there are no known additional incidents --


BERMAN: In or around New York City right now. No other known activities in or around New York City right now. So there was this one explosion this morning. That is all they know about.

HARLOW: And a clear message from Governor Cuomo of New York saying we will not be defeated by this and telling New Yorkers, you know, let's go back to work. An important message saying their attempt is to disrupt us. We will not let terrorism do this.

[09:55:07] BERMAN: All right, joining us now, Howie Safir, a former New York City Police commissioner, Joe Giacalone, former NYPD sergeant and law enforcement trainer, and our reporter, Brynn Gingras with us to help us understand what's going on.

Commissioner, I want to start with you here. The headline here is, there was a terror related attack. An attempted terror related attack here in the heart of New York City, in the transportation system. A pipe bomb that went off. Your reaction to what you just heard?

HOWARD SAFIR, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Well, my reaction, we did not learn a lot of new information other than the name from this press conference. But the fact is that we know that there are radical people who are going to the -- trying to commit these acts. We were very lucky here that it was a minor explosion and, obviously, a low-type device.

The reality is that we're going to be faced with this in the future. And as both the governor and the mayor and the police commissioner said, we're New Yorkers, we've got to go about our lives and let the authorities deal with what they can deal with.

Unfortunately, terrorists only have to be right once. We have to be right 100 percent of the time. We need the public to be vigilant, to be aware of their surroundings. But is this going to be the last one that ever happens? Sadly, I don't think so.

HARLOW: Brynn, what stood out to you from what you heard from all those officials?

GINGRAS: I mean the fact of where he did it.


GINGRAS: The fact of the time. I mean where he did it is this -- we actually talked about it on "NEW DAY. " It's this very sort of narrow passageway underground that connects two avenues so people can move from the bus stations to the train stations, the subways. And that's -- like I said, it's very narrow. So if he was successful, the explosion really would have rocked just this concentration area.


GINGRAS: So that struck me, as well as, obviously, the details of what this bomb consisted of. They're still trying to go through that with the bomb squad.

But also what struck me, Poppy, is that they mentioned that earlier last month they -- all these different departments of New York City, we're talking about the subways and the police and the fire, they did a planning together for this particular incident. And so now they have service back up and running just two hours after this happened. So the fact that that took place, I mean, I t's just -- that is incredible.

BERMAN: All right, Brynn, stand by.

Howard Safir, Joe Giacalone, stand by as well.

We're going to take a quick break. Much more on the breaking news, this terror related attack here in New York City this morning, four people injured, including a suspect, but, miraculously, no other casualties.

Stay with us