Investigators are painting a portrait of New York City subway jihadi Akayed Ullah as the quintessential “lone wolf,” a man with no known previous connections to international terrorism who became radicalized and learned to build bombs online.
His online bomb-building education appears to have been subpar since he was unable to carry out the mass-casualty attack he planned.
“U.S. investigators believe he was self-radicalized after entering the United States, most likely by watching militant propaganda on the internet, the officials said, adding that they were unaware of any specific militant video that might have led him to produce his faulty explosive device,” Reuters reports.
Reuters quotes officials who said Ullah “learned to build a bomb on the Internet at his Brooklyn apartment.”
A law enforcement source told CNN the weapon Ullah constructed was “a foot-long pipe that contained black powder, a battery, wiring, nails, and screws,” attached to his body with Velcro strips and zip ties. The nails and screws were intended to function as shrapnel, inflicting maximum carnage on everyone around the jihadi when he detonated his weapon. CNN’s sources said the pipe bomb was apparently constructed at Ullah’s apartment within the last week.
The New York Daily News reports that the initiator Ullah installed in his pipe bomb to touch off the explosion was a Christmas tree light bulb. The detonation was strong enough to blow the caps off both ends of the bomb, but not enough to make the pipe explode and release its deadly cloud of shrapnel.
In the event, he achieved only a partial detonation strong enough to injure himself and four other people. “Video from the blast, which wounded Ullah and gave three others ringing ears and headaches, clearly shows the explosion, which shot up a column of smoke and caused commuters to flee in either direction. But in the end, the smoke clears and only the attacker appears to remain virtually motionless on the ground,” Business Insider writes.
The L.A. Times cites a federal law enforcement official who said Ullah was “self-radicalized” after arriving in the United States about 7 years ago from Bangladesh. This source said Ullah was “inspired by recent calls by the Islamic State to commit attacks in Western cities around the Christmas holidays.”
The Department of Homeland Security warned about the “elevated threat” from Islamic State calls for “Christmas blood” in testimony before the Senate last week. The effectiveness of the Islamic State’s online network and its continuing ability to inspire “lone offenders” to commit sudden acts of violence was cited as a reason for concern.
Bangladeshi police said on Monday that Ullah has no criminal record there. He does, however, have “several traffic tickets on his record” in the United States, per NBC News. He visited Bangladesh in September for reasons as yet unknown. Several members of his extended family have been located and interviewed by the authorities.
Another relative of Akayed Ullah, his brother Ahsan, was discovered to worship at the Masjid al-Salam mosque in Jersey City, which was once home to “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, mastermind of the 1993 bomb attack on the World Trade Center. The New York Post reports that Akayed has told investigators his brother “had no role in the Port Authority attack.”