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Monday
Dec112017

NYC explosion suspect self-inspired from ISIS online propaganda: Sources

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A man accused of detonating an explosive in the New York City subway system Monday morning had the bomb strapped to him while he rode in from Brooklyn to Manhattan before the attack, a law enforcement source said.

The explosion occurred in an underground passageway near the Port Authority Bus Terminal and, despite the rush-hour crowds, only three people suffered minor injuries, officials said. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the explosion “one of our worst nightmares.” 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo  called the explosion “one of our worst nightmares.” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called it an "attempted terrorist attack."

Cuomo said on CNN that the homemade device only partially detonated, explaining that the bomb was in a pipe that itself did not explode.

Authorities called it an "improvised low-tech explosive device" that was attached to the suspect with hook-and-loop fasteners and zip ties.

A law enforcement source said the bomb was built from a 12-inch long pipe, black powder and rigged with a 9-volt battery and a wire that came from a Christmas light. Because it was strapped to the suspect, the assumption is he had been prepared to die a suicide bomber, the source said. The pipe had nails stuffed into it, the source said, and it had the ability to impose more injuries than it did.

“This could have been worse,” a law enforcement source told ABC News.

However, the pipe did not fully shatter and a 6-inch piece was discovered fully intact. 

The 27-year-old suspect, Akayed Ullah, is in the hospital, badly injured in the arm and torso from the device that went off in his arms, sources said. Ullah, originally from Bangladesh, told authorities he is self-inspired from ISIS online propaganda, sources said.

Ullah entered the United States from Bangladesh seven years ago on a family-based visa and has an address in Brooklyn, sources said. The explosive was assembled in his apartment, sources said.

Authorities called the explosive an "improvised low-tech explosive device" that was based on a pipe bomb and was attached to the suspect with Velcro and zip ties.

Video of the incident, shot by a surveillance camera, shows commuters’ walking in the passageway when the explosion erupts. The camera screen filled with smoke as people scattered.

Christina Bethea, 29, told ABC News she was in the passageway on her way to work next to the terminal when she heard a bang, saw smoke and ran.

"If I didn’t believe in God, I believe in God today," she said, adding that she commuted from Yonkers, New York.

Alfonso Chavez -- brother of Veronica Chavez, who was hospitalized after today’s attack -- told ABC News that his sister is doing better but still feeling the after-effects of the explosion. Veronica Chavez was on her way to work when the bomb detonated. She told her brother that she first heard the explosion and then saw dust and smoke.

When the smoke settled, she saw two to three bodies on the floor along with some debris, her brother said she told him. She froze for a second, then ran, falling to the ground as she went before finally reaching an exit, Alfonso Chavez said.

The explosion in the subway system -- ridden by 6 million people each day -- occurred at about 7:20 a.m.

Port Authority Police Department Officer Jack Collins, who was undercover at the time looking for children being trafficked at the bus terminal, apprehended Ullah, with the help of three other officers: Sean Gallagher, Anthony Manfredini and Drew Preston.

Manfredini noticed alarmed commuters running from the suspect, who was already on the ground after having detonated the device, said Robert Egbert, a spokesman for the Port Authority police union.

The officers then reached the wounded suspect and saw what appeared to be wires coming out of his clothing, Egbert said. Ullah appeared to be reaching for a cellphone, Egbert said, and the officers held him at gunpoint and cuffed him after a brief struggle. The officers didn't fire their weapons, Egbert said.

On Monday evening, Port Authority Police Benevolent Association President Paul Nunziato praised the officers for their quick action. "Those four guys are heroes," he told ABC news.

"Thank God the perpetrator did not achieve his ultimate goals," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

New York City has long been a target of terrorist attacks. Since Sept. 11, about 26 “plots” in New York City have been prevented, officials said this morning.

There are no credible and specific threats against New York City at this time, officials said.

The bus terminal was temporarily closed but has since reopened. Subways were bypassing the terminal and Times Square stations.

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement, “The Department of Homeland Security is taking appropriate action to protect our people and our country in the wake of Monday’s attempted terrorist attack."

"We will continue to assist New York authorities with the response and investigation and we urge the public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity," Nielsen said. "More broadly, the administration continues to adopt significant security measures to keep terrorists from entering our country and from recruiting within our borders."

Monday's explosion comes less than two months after a native of Uzbekistan plowed a truck into a crowd on a lower Manhattan bike path, killing eight. He was allegedly inspired by ISIS videos he'd watched on his cellphone.

President Donald Trump said in a statement that Monday's attack "once again highlights the urgent need for Congress to enact legislative reforms to protect the American people."

"America must fix its lax immigration system, which allows far too many dangerous, inadequately vetted people to access our country," Trump said. "Today’s terror suspect entered our country through extended-family chain migration, which is incompatible with national security. 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. Congress must end chain migration.

"Congress must also act on my administration’s other proposals to enhance domestic security, including increasing the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, enhancing the arrest and detention authorities for immigration officers, and ending fraud and abuse in our immigration system," he said.

Trump also added "those convicted of engaging in acts of terror deserve the strongest penalty allowed by law, including the death penalty in appropriate cases. America should always stand firm against terrorism and extremism, ensuring that our great institutions can address all evil acts of terror."

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Monday
Dec112017

NYC terror suspect’s family 'heartbroken' by attack

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images(NEW YORK) --  The family of the man accused of detonating an explosive in the New York City subway system Monday morning said they are "heartbroken" by the allegations.

The explosion occurred in an underground passageway near the Port Authority Bus Terminal, sending commuters scrambling to evacuate a major transit hub just blocks from Times Square. Despite the rush-hour crowds, only five people suffered minor injuries, officials said.

The 27-year-old suspect, Akayed Ullah, is in the hospital, badly injured in the arm and torso from the device that went off in his arms, law enforcement sources said.

"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," the family said in a statement, which was read in front of the Ullah family's home in Brooklyn by Albert Fox Cahn, legal director for Council on American-Islamic Relations-New York.

"But we are also outraged by the behavior of law enforcement officials who have held children as small as 4 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 statement continued. "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."

It's not clear who the children and the teenager referred to in the statement are.

Ullah, originally from Bangladesh, told authorities he is self-inspired from ISIS online propaganda, sources said. Ullah told authorities no one directed him to carry out the attack and he talked about the plight of Muslims over the years, a law enforcement source said.

Ullah entered the United States from Bangladesh seven years ago on a family-based visa and has an address in Brooklyn, sources said. The explosive was assembled in his apartment, sources said.

Video of the incident, shot by a surveillance camera, shows commuters walking in the passageway when the explosion erupts. The camera screen filled with smoke as people scattered.

Christina Bethea, 29, told ABC News she was in the passageway on her way to work next to the terminal when she heard a bang, saw smoke and ran.

"If I didn’t believe in God, I believe in God today," she said, adding that she commuted from Yonkers, New York.

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Monday
Dec112017

Huge California wildfire in Ventura, Santa Barbara counties has charred 230,000 acres 

ABC News(LOS ANGELES) -- The Thomas Fire, the worst of five wildfires currently burning in California, grew by more than 50,000 acres on Sunday, making it the fifth-largest wildfire in the state's history, fire officials said.

The inferno just north of Los Angeles in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties is being fought by about 6,400 firefighters.

It’s been a witch's brew fueled by lush vegetation, powerful Santa Ana winds and the region's extremely warm weather and dry conditions.

So far, officials estimate the Thomas Fire has charred about 230,500 acres, the equivalent of about 360 square miles. It has consumed 794 structures and damaged about 190 others, with 18,000 buildings still at risk.

The peril of the blaze, which has burned wildly for a week, has prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents.

In Santa Barbara County alone, more than 30,000 residents were forced from their homes under evacuation warnings.

Perhaps most critical is that the Santa Ana winds persist, keeping firefighters struggling with gusts at around 35 to 45 mph, Cal Fire officials confirmed.

However, in a promising turn, despite the fire’s perimeter spreading over the weekend, the Thomas Fire is now back to 15 percent contained -- up slightly from Sunday evening.

The state has spent more than $34 million on efforts to suppress the Thomas fire, which has also knocked out electricity for thousands of area residents, authorities said.

 "[We're] facing a new reality in the state," California Gov. Jerry Brown said Saturday as he surveyed damage in Ventura County. "It's a horror and a horror we need to recover from."

He said drought and climate change have exacerbated the wildfires.

 From now on in California, Brown said, fires are going to be more "intense" and a greater danger to lives and property.

"Individuals need to come together to make our communities livable," he said.

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Monday
Dec112017

Court ruling: Transgender individuals can enlist in the military beginning Jan. 1

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) --  The Pentagon is preparing to allow transgender individuals to enlist in the U.S. military beginning Jan. 1 in compliance with a federal court ruling from two weeks ago.

On Monday, the court denied an emergency stay issued by the Trump administration to delay that court order. While the administration continues appealing that decision, the Pentagon is preparing in the meantime to let transgender individuals join the military if they meet certain guidelines.

The Pentagon’s compliance only applies to allowing transgender individuals seeking to join the military to enlist. Separate court actions have temporarily halted the implementation of the Trump administration's reinstatement of a ban on transgender service members that was to have been phased into place this spring.

“As required by recent federal district court orders, the Department of Defense recently announced it will begin processing transgender applicants for military service on January 1, 2018,” said a Defense Department statement issued Monday. “This policy will be implemented while the Department of Defense appeals those court orders.”

The Pentagon will comply with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia's order that it implement the guidelines issued by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter in 2016 when he lifted the ban on transgender service members in the military.

Under those guidelines, applicants will be allowed to join if a medical provider certifies they have been stable without “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning” for 18 months.

Similarly, a licensed medical provider must certify that an applicant “has completed all medical treatment associated with the applicant's gender transition, the applicant has been stable in the preferred gender for 18 months, and if presently receiving cross-sex hormone therapy post-gender transition, the individual has been stable on such hormones for 18 months.”

Applicants who have completed sex reassignment or genital reconstruction surgery must have a licensed medical provider certify that “a period of 18 months has elapsed since the date of the most recent surgery, no functional limitations or complications persist, and no additional surgeries are required.”

"Transgender individuals receiving hormone therapy also must be stable on their medication for 18 months."

"As of right now, they are simply complying with a court order and a previous policy to remain in compliance," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said during Monday's White House briefing. "The Department of Justice is currently reviewing the legal options to ensure that the president's directive can be implemented, and for anything further, any specifics on both of those matters, I refer you to the Department of Defense and Justice."

The lawsuit moving through federal court was filed on behalf of transgender service members two weeks after President Trump tweeted in July that transgender individuals would not be allowed in the U.S. military "in any capacity" because of the "tremendous medical costs and disruption."

On Aug. 25, Trump formally signed a memorandum directing the Pentagon to ban transgender individuals from serving. The directive gave the Department of Defense six months to develop an implementation plan that will go into effect on March 23, 2018.

Former defense secretary Ash Carter lifted the ban on transgender service members in June 2016 and put in place a one-year review of how transgender recruits could join the military by the following summer.

Current defense secretary James Mattis extended that study in July of this year by six months, however, Trump's new policy directive has put into question what will happen to current transgender service members and those individuals hoping to serve.

As recently as last week, Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said the Pentagon was continuing with its panel that would provide recommendations to Mattis, by February, for how to handle the cases of transgender individuals already in uniform.

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Monday
Dec112017

Surveillance video captures explosion in New York City subway system

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Surveillance video caught the dramatic moment an explosive device was detonated in the New York City subway system during Monday morning's rush hour, sending panicked commuters scrambling to evacuate.

The video shows commuters walking in the underground passageway near the Port Authority Bus Terminal when the explosion erupts. The camera screen filled with smoke as people fled for safety.

As the smoke clears, the suspect is seen lying on the ground.

The 27-year-old suspect, Akayed Ullah, is in the hospital, badly injured in the arm and torso from the device that went off in his arms, sources said. Ullah, originally from Bangladesh, told authorities he is self-inspired from ISIS online propaganda, sources said.

Christina Bethea, 29, told ABC News she was in the passageway on her way to work when she heard a bang, saw smoke and ran.

Despite the crowds, only three people suffered minor injuries, officials said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the explosion “one of our worst nightmares.” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called it an "attempted terrorist attack."

Cuomo said on CNN that the homemade device only partially detonated, explaining that the bomb was in a pipe that itself did not explode. Authorities called it an "improvised low-tech explosive device" that was attached to the suspect with Velcro and zip ties.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Dec112017

Coach who allegedly ran away with teen being extradited to Florida 

Courtesy Columbia County Sheriff's Office (NEW YORK) --  A high school soccer coach who allegedly ran away with a 17-year-old girl is being extradited to Florida, an official told ABC News Monday.

Rian Rodriguez, 27, had been in custody in upstate Onondaga County, New York, on a Florida warrant for alleged custodial interference since 17-year-old Caitlyn Frisina was found safe in New York with him earlier this month. He's now been released from the Onondaga County Jail to be extradited to Florida, where he lives, said Jon Seeber of the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office.

A spokesperson for the Columbia County Detention Facility in Florida confirmed to ABC News that Rodriguez is heading to the jail, but the spokesperson declined to say when he is expected to arrive due to security reasons. 

Frisina was reported missing from her Florida home on Nov. 26, sparking a massive search. She and Rodriguez -- a family friend and assistant soccer coach at the teen's Florida high school -- were found in a car together in Syracuse six days later.

Frisina has since been reunited with her parents.

Chuck Keller, the Syracuse-based attorney representing Rodriguez in New York, told ABC News last week, “I can say that my client maintains his innocence of any charges and has consented to be extradited back to Florida as soon as possible so that he can clear up the matters there."

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Monday
Dec112017

Witness of explosion at major NYC transit hub: 'I believe in God today!' 

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Christina Bethea was on her way to her security guard job in Midtown Manhattan early Monday morning.

But she never made it to work.

The 29-year-old had arrived at the massive Port Authority terminal after taking a bus from her home in Yonkers north of the city and then a city subway. She was about to walk out of the transit hub to her job.

“I walked down the stairs to go through the pathway that connects to the Port Authority and when I got to the end of it I heard a noise that went ‘boom’,” she told ABC News. “It sounded like a big gunshot. One time.”

The explosive sound was the result of what authorities are calling "an attempted terrorist attack" that injured three people.

A 27-year-old suspect "intentionally detonated" an improvised, low-tech explosive device that was based on a pipe bomb and was attached to the suspect with Velcro and zip ties, authorities said. Three people were injured.

Bethea heard the sound first. Then she saw smoke.

“I saw that so I started running to get out of there,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

She said others also fled at the sound of an explosion and smoke.

“We all just ran,” she said. “We all ran up the steps, and someone said, ‘What the hell was that?’”

Police arrived quickly, she said.

“Not even two minutes passed and all the police rushed into the Port Authority,” she said.

After calling her family and her best friend, Bethea heard the news that the explosion and smoke were from a detonated device.

Realizing she survived what may have been an attempted bombing, Bethea decided to head back home.

“It shakes you up,” she said. “If I didn’t believe in God, I believe in God today,”

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Monday
Dec112017

5 years after tragedy, families of Sandy Hook victims work to prevent gun violence, make lost loved ones 'proud'

iStock/Thinkstock(NEWTOWN, Conn.) -- Five years after a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school horrified the nation, some family members of victims reflected on how their lives have changed since the tragedy, as they work together to prevent future acts of gun violence.

"We simply don't want other parents to be in our position. We know that these acts of violence are preventable," Nicole Hockley, whose son, Dylan, was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown five years ago, told ABC News' Amy Robach. "We feel responsible to teach people how to prevent them from happening."

Hockley recalled how her Dylan, who had autism, loved to pretend to he was a butterfly.

"He would flap his arms up and down whenever he got excited, which was pretty much all the time, and I asked him once, 'Why do you flap?' and he said, 'because I'm a beautiful butterfly,'" she said.

"At his funeral I talked about how the theory of a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world can cause a hurricane on the other side," Hockley said. "I thought about Dylan as our butterfly to help create change in our country, positive, transformative change."

Hockley co-founded the Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit organization that uses educational programs to help prevent acts of gun violence before they occur.

The community of Newtown was thrust into the national spotlight five years ago this week when it was rocked by tragedy after a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty students -- between the ages of 6 and 7 -- and six educators were killed.

The shooting drew many immediate calls for reform or action to prevent a similar tragedy from ever happening again. Just this October, however, the U.S. suffered the deadliest mass shooting in history when a gunman killed 59 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Mark Barden, who also co-founded Sandy Hook Promise after his son, Daniel, was killed at the elementary school, told ABC News that he "made a very deliberate decision to invest every fiber of my being into trying to prevent that from happening again."

Barden recalled his son as "an exceptionally sweet, compassionate little soul."

"My one little Daniel has in his life affected so many people in a positive way, but in his murder I can't even tell you," Barden said.

"We're training people, students, parents, teachers, how to recognize the warning signs that people give off before they hurt themselves before they hurt someone else," Barden said.

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Monday
Dec112017

Body found in wooded area identified as missing Maryland teen

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A body found Sunday in a wooded area in a suburb of Washington, D.C., has been identified as that of a 17-year-old boy who went missing a day earlier, according to police.

The body of Navid Nicholas Sepehri, a senior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland, was found in a wooded area in the city that is about 20 minutes northeast of the nation's capital, Montgomery County police said in a statement.

Sepehri was reported missing after he failed to return home Saturday night, according to the statement.

Walt Whitman High School's principal confirmed the teen was a senior at the school in an email to parents and students Sunday night, according to ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington.

Police said the cause of death is still under investigation.

Montgomery County police are asking anyone with information on the case to call its major crimes division.

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Monday
Dec112017

Midwest and Northeast brace for bitter cold, more snow

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A fresh round of cold and snow headed toward the Midwest and Northeast on Monday.

The National Weather Service has issued winter storm watches and warnings for nine states from Indiana to Maine as an Alberta Clipper storm system moves through Monday into Tuesday.

The system is just moving into the northern Plains from the Dakotas to Minnesota and Wisconsin, with snow from Minneapolis to Chicago.

The storm system is forecast to move east into the Great Lakes by Monday evening, bringing snow from Detroit to Cleveland.

The clipper system is expected to touch down in the Northeast by Tuesday morning, with snow mostly inland and rain showers from Boston south to Washington, D.C.

Most of the snow will fall in the Midwest and Northeast just north of major metropolitan areas. Some parts of inland Maine could get as much as 10 inches.

Behind the storm system, the coldest air of the season is forecast for the Northeast by Wednesday morning.

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