NYPD Challenged by Lone Wolf’s Worming Through Big Apple

Monday’s early-morning typical big rush in the Big Apple was rocked by a lone wolf worming his way through one of the world’s mega-transit icons with a pipe bomb fastened to his flesh. New York’s Port Authority terminal reverberated far and wide, and among the chronic throngs of pedestrians was Bangladesh-born Akayed Ullah, 27, whose detonation turned out to be a belly bomb. Upon the blast shaking the subterranean masses of travelers, Ullah was taken down by several heroes in blue police uniforms, all of whom fanned through smoke and pinned their prey without further incident.

Reminiscent of the felling of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, the Port Authority Police Department and NYPD cadre of courageous cops exhibited once again how, when mayhem ensues, potential self-sacrifice is a reality for police officers who rush in while moving innocents away.

For the bungled Bangladeshi bomber, Ullah didn’t get to see Allah. Instead, PAPD and NYPD cops shackled him before FDNY paramedics boarded him to nearby Bellevue Hospital Center.

“First responders helping failed suicide bomber Akayed Ullah who wanted to kill & maim innocent people in NYC. This is what makes the West great…our humanity even in the face of evil.” (Caption and Photo Credit: Facebook/Rita Panahi – Columnist)

Could we have prevented the entire event, though? We must wonder if we missed a beat, a sign, a clandestine chat, a sideways glance, a social media post alluding to wanton disregard for Americans or cops…or disdain of our societal ways and means.  We now know he posted anti-Trump messages on Facebook.

Could Ullah have been stopped just before he detonated the bomb?  Was he suspicious before detonation? Did any of the public see him beforehand and not process any strange behavior? New Yorkers are a hustle and bustle bunch, nothing wrong with that lifestyle. But did a blip slip on by one or more travelers without scrutiny? Are we overly relying on law enforcement officers?

According to NYPD Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism, John Miller described the lone wolf style of Ullah to CBS News anchors in New York: “This is not the Al Qaida model where a cell of people who are communicating with a base are an intelligence problem,” but lone wolf assailants “are consumers of this propaganda and these plots unfold when they’re not necessarily working with anyone else.”

Akayed Ullah, 27, suspect in Monday morning’s subway bombing being swiftly apprehended by Port Authority police officers. (Credit: Facebook/War Doll)

Lone wolf actors more or less have a”conspiracy within the confines of their own mind,” added Commissioner Miller. As NYPD police Commissioner James O’Neill summed-up on Twitter:

Chain Migration

Of those countries whose populations are prevalent with Muslims, Bangladesh ranks 4th highest of all nations. Although Bangladesh is not on President Trump’s list of travel bans from certain Muslim nations, the Trump Administration has been inclined to cease so-called “chain migration” which equates to U.S. entry in conjunction with extended familial relations.

“Random lotteries, extended family connections — that’s not the way to run our immigration system.”

“Random lotteries, extended family connections — that’s not the way to run our immigration system,”said Francis Cissna, director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared, “We have now seen two terrorist attacks in New York City in less than two months that were carried out by people who came here as the result of our failed immigration policies that do not serve the national interest—the diversity lottery and chain migration,” adding “It is a failure of logic and sound policy not to adopt a merit-based immigration system.”

New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal where thousands traversed while a Bangladeshi immigrant detonated a pipe bomb attached to his body. Despite massive police presence, lone wolf assailants are a proverbial needle-in-a-haystack in metropolis NYC. (Credit: KC TV5 News Kansas City)

According to Police Commissioner James O’Neill, Ullah had two explosive devices, one of which was “affixed to his body with velcro and zip ties.”

In the US District Court of Southern New York, Department of Homeland Security special Agent Joseph D. Cerciello filed federal charges against Ullah, including use of weapons of mass destruction, bombing a place of public use, destruction of property by means of fire or explosion, use of a destructive device during and in furtherance of a crime of violence, provision of material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

“I’ve always stressed collaboration in law enforcement, because none of us can do alone what all of us can do together.”

NYPD says it is becoming more difficult staying steps ahead of lone wolf attackers. In a city with close to 9 million residents and hordes of businesspeople and tourists, it should come as no surprise that the phantom-like figures lurk relatively undetected.

As former NYPD police Commissioner Bill Bratton said in November 2015, “I’ve always stressed collaboration in law enforcement, because none of us can do alone what all of us can do together.” Mr. Bratton spoke those words at an Operation Sentry conference attended by 100s of law enforcement, national security, and military figures collaborating on counterterrorism and intelligence principles.

Everyday throngs of travelers, mostly New Yorkers, congest the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC, making it difficult for law enforcement to easily detect the lurking lone wolf types. (Credit: Facebook/El Paisano Noticias – Piura)

Largely a liberal municipality with a sanctuary city stance, one may imagine the odds of walking among a nefarious individual and not even knowing how close peril brushes against New Yorkers. For example, Ullah was a New York City cabdriver, roaming around in one of thousands of yellow cars picking up fares…before he went wolf.

Ullah was a New York City cabdriver, roaming around in one of thousands of yellow cars picking up fares…before he went wolf.

Illustratively, so culturally diverse is NYC that reactions of any kind to many things are rare. I was desensitized to oddities when I lived in NYC. Tuning-out strange encounters is the relative norm. As Marius Mina put it: “Don’t act Shocked about Today’s Islamic Attack…Terrorists like Akayed Ullah are allowed to strut their ISIS Flags down the streets of Manhattan!”

Muslim woman totes ISIS flag while walking down a street in New York City. (Credit: Facebook/Marius Mina)

Extended Familial Relations

According to WorldBulletin.net, Ullah’s family became “outraged” over all the police actions stemming from the Port Authority Bus Terminal bombing. World Bulletin reported that spokesperson Albert Fox Cahn, the legal director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations-New York, said on behalf of Ullah’s family, “We are heartbroken by the violence that was targeted at our city today, and by the allegations being made against a member of our family.” He did have a pipe bomb blow out his belly, did he not? Caught red-handed, no?

Nevertheless, the Ullah family had more to say: “But we are also outraged by the behavior of the law enforcement officials who have held children as small as 4 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 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,” added the spokesperson on behalf of the Ullah family.

The most conceding part in that last statement was the phrase “confidence that our justice system will find the truth behind this attack.” Indeed, innocent until proven guilty…but I do believe Akayed Ullah gave the criminal justice system a decent trump card.

President Trump’s post-incident statement entailed harping on America’s national security thrust: “America must fix its lax immigration system, which allows far too many dangerous, inadequately vetted people to access our country,” he said in a statement issued hours after the attack. “My Executive action to restrict the entry of certain nationals from eight countries, which the Supreme Court recently allowed to take effect, is just one step forward in securing our immigration system.” And it is that pulsing vein which also pushes oxygen into the role of law enforcement and immigration enforcement. The needle in a haystack approach is mollified if the needle is not permitted to infiltrate the sovereign stack of hay.

The Trump Administration has been steadfast in its immigration stance and principled border security affirmations.

Which leads us to Akayed Ullah’s intriguing statement allegedly made to NYPD cops and federal agents, post-arrest: “Trump you failed to protect your nation.” It is believed he refers to President Trump.

“Trump you failed to protect your nation.”

In addition to throwing shade at President Trump, Ullah also claimed he chose the heavily-traversed subterranean walkway because of its Christmas posters. In a rather karmic way, Ullah’s “improvised low-tech device” was fashioned with a 9-volt battery, fragments of metallic pipe, metal screws, matches, and one…Christmas light.

As the Bangladeshi bomber bang-banged himself in the belly, police personnel did what cops do daily: took disaster by the horns and carted him away.

This about sums it up. (Credit: Facebook/Cop Humor)

Despite its 51, 304 employees —roughly 37,000 of whom are sworn cops forming a myriad of special teams and task forces to make many nations envious of one city’s public safety contingency —the NYPD’s challenges persist. So much so that NYPD Commissioner O’Neill pitched Congress for help:

As Commissioner O’Neill wrote for the NY Daily News, “As we all know, New York City is the terrorist target of choice in the United States. In national risk assessments, the city leads the list, both in terms of the likelihood of an attack and the risk of loss should an attack occur” adding “this situation is only compounded by the emergence of lone-wolf terrorists who act without direct orders from terrorist organizations, but are motivated and learn tactics through their covert research online. To foil these threats, we need the widest possible search team and the strongest possible network of counterterror capabilities. So, the shared responsibilities for protecting our city extend far beyond the public and the FBI to technology companies on the one hand and the United States Congress on the other.”

Beckoning Congress to alter its perspective, especially regarding the concealed carry debate, O’Neill said “New York police could stop four terrorists with guns acting suspiciously who presented licenses from Virginia, where almost anyone can get a gun, and be forced to let them go, even though today, that same gun possession would be a felony. Congress needs to focus on real threats, rather than creating new ones.”

“Congress needs to focus on real threats, rather than creating new ones.”

He had a few words for the Trump Administration also, having to do with discounting the law enforcement mission: “President Trump’s budget proposal early this year envisioned cutting counterterror funding to cities by a staggering 45% and zeroing out training funding.”

One chronic albeit valid complaint amongst cops is budget constraints which hamper police operations, forego advanced training acquisition, stagnate services, and ultimately shortchange public safety. As a target-rich environment, I don’t think any reason to edit police budgets —thus cheating counterterrorism focuses— is a wise thing.

Not only do filleted police budgets hinder objectives but it also engenders officer safety factors: cops are made to hold the short end of the stick while the bad guys strategize, scheme, and acquire the latest firepower against LEO lives and the public they try to diligently serve. “Given the possible forms that a terror attack might take, we have to train, equip and prepare for everything, including bio warfare or a dirty bomb. Federal funding has been invaluable, and cuts would undermine our readiness,” Commissioner O’Neill harped.

NYPD’s John Miller acknowledged Ullah was not on anyone’s radar and that he appeared “one day out of the blue.” Out of the blue, into the black, then into the arresting hands of NYPD blue. That is perhaps the quintessential NYPD cop’s reason for joining the nation’s largest municipal police force.

Akin to confetti cascading on New Year’s Eve in Times Square, cops are everywhere.

As a kid growing up in Brooklyn,  any whiff of trouble most often resulted in throngs of  NYPD blue uniforms. Not much gets by the NYPD. Akin to confetti cascading on New Year’s Eve in Times Square, cops are everywhere. Ask anyone who has visited Times Square or Central Park or the Empire State building. Cops, cops, and more cops. Seemingly ubiquitous. A welcome sight, for sure.

Despite the inexplicable assassinations of NYPD police officials by hateful, evil, misguided souls…New Yorkers love their cops. Notwithstanding the approximately 37,000 sworn police officers operating in NYC’s five boroughs —and the ratio between the metropolis’s multi-million population —no terrorist or lunatic lone wolf is dressed in tutti-frutti garb while waving a neon green flag.

Detection may be difficult, but diligence has value…supplemented by the eyes/ears of throngs of citizens. NYPD’s John Miller says “it’s getting harder” to detect these lunatic jihadis. Respectfully, it has never been easy-peasy…but he is correct in that evolutionary measures to conduct a unified or lone wolf revolution is without invitations.

Assistant Director of the FBI NY Field Office, William Sweeney, Jr. iterated, “The nature of this particular strain of the terrorism threat can often mean evaluating behavior that doesn’t mean anything until you combine it with other pieces of intelligence.  We rely heavily upon the community’s assistance to accomplish that task.”

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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