Bangladesh’s Dhaka Tribune reported Thursday that Akayed Ullah, the jihadist responsible for a failed suicide bombing in New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal, visited a Rohingya refugee camp during his last trip to the country to conduct charity work.
New York authorities revealed in the complaint against Ullah that he had begun the radicalization process in 2014 and began planning to make and detonate a bomb last year. Evidence also suggests that he attempted to indoctrinate his wife, who still lives in Bangladesh, with radical Islamic propaganda.
Despite choosing a crowded, contained tunnel connecting Port Authority to Times Square, Ullah’s bomb left him significantly burned and caused minor injuries to three bystanders.
The Tribune cites Ullah’s mother-in-law, Mahfuja Akhter, as the source for the story tying Ullah to the Rohingya camp. Ullah last visited Bangladesh in September. According to Akhter, “He stayed in Cox’s Bazar for a day and distributed first aid medicines among the displaced Rohingyas in Kutupalong.” She insisted that he refused to stay in a hotel “in order to save money to purchase more medicines for the helpless people.”
The Rohingya are a majority-Muslim ethnic people from Burma. Human rights NGOs monitoring the situation estimate that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled the country, following the launch of a nationwide campaign to eradicate them, and traveled to Bangladesh where many suffer in refugee camps with no sign of being able to return home in the near future.
The Dhaka Tribune notes that Bangladeshi counterterrorism officers confirmed that Ullah had visited the camp in question in October, but could not definitively say that he went alone and did not provide any details as to how he decided to make the trip or if anyone invited him.
Ullah’s family in Bangladesh have denied any knowledge tying him to radical Islam. Both his father-in-law and brother-in-law told local media that they did not believe he was responsible for the attack in New York, even though he was arrested wearing the explosive he detonated and reportedly told police, “I did it for the Islamic State.”
“We think Akayed might have fallen victim to a conspiracy,” brother-in-law Hasan Mahmud Joy said. His father, Julfikar Haider, also told the Tribune, “I cannot believe that he [Akayed] could be involved with militancy.” Wife Jannatul Ferdous Jui told reporters she believed he was “innocent.”
They noted nonetheless that he observed his religion strictly and demanded his wife pray five times a day. Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit (CTTC) chief Monirul Islam also announced that police found evidence that Ullah had demanded Jui read the books of Islamic extremist group leader Jasim Uddin Rahmani. Joy, Ullah’s brother-in-law, posited that Jui had downloaded the book in question independent of Ullah.
In New York, Ullah’s family members condemned the police for investigating the attempted suicide bombing through a statement issued by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
“We are also outraged by the behavior of law enforcement officials who have held children as small as four years old out in the cold and who held a teenager out of high school classes to interrogate him without a lawyer, without his parents,” the family statement issued Monday read. “These are not the sorts of actions that 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. Thank you for your time.”
Both relatives and authorities in Bangladesh are claiming Ullah was radicalized upon moving to the United States in 2011.
“The suspect could have been radicalized after being exposed to contents that promote extremism through the internet while in America,” Islam told reporters.
Ullah himself stated that he was a supporter of the Islamic State and had taught himself to build an explosive. He activated his plan to execute a suicide bombing sooner than he expected after becoming aggravated with the Christmas posters adorning the subway tunnel he attacked, the NYPD confirmed.
Ullah lived in Brooklyn and worked as an electrician before his arrest, while his wife and infant child remained in Bangladesh. He entered the country after being sponsored for an immigrant visa by a distant uncle.