Explosion From Apparent Bomb Injures 29 In New York City
What was otherwise a quiet mid-September Saturday evening was interrupted last night by an explosion that appears to be deliberate, although there are no real clues regarding who may have been responsible:
A powerful explosion caused by what the authorities believe was a homemade bomb injured at least 29 people on a crowded sidewalk in the bustling Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan on Saturday night.
A few hours later, the authorities found and removed what they described as a second explosive device four blocks away, raising the possibility that two bombs had been planted in the heart of the city.
Mayor Bill de Blasio called the explosion — which occurred about 8:30 p.m. on West 23rd Street — “an intentional act” but initially said there was no connection to terrorism and no immediate claim of responsibility.
Police officers swarmed Chelsea’s streets after the blast, which reverberated across a city scarred by terrorism and vigilant about threats, just days after the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Whatever the cause,” Mr. de Blasio said, “New Yorkers will not be intimidated.”
As the authorities sought to identify what had caused the explosion, they described the second device as a pressure cooker resembling the one used in the deadly Boston Marathonbombings in 2013, according to a police official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a continuing investigation.
It was unclear whether the blast on West 23rd Street had been caused by the same type of explosive.
In the immediate aftermath, the police shut down a swath of Manhattan south of Midtown. The area from 14th Street to 32nd Street was closed to traffic between Fifth and Eighth Avenues. But by 7 a.m., only 23rd Street remained closed.
A grim Mr. de Blasio, speaking at a news conference at the scene around 11:15 p.m., said “injuries are significant.” But for the moment, he said, none of them were life-threatening.
Many of the injuries were caused by shrapnel from the explosion, which witnesses said seemed to have started inside a sidewalk Dumpster near the Avenue of the Americas. Images of a twisted Dumpster in the middle of West 23rd Street quickly proliferated on Twitter.
The impact shattered windows, damaged cars and sent crowds running from the scene at an hour when Chelsea, always a popular destination, was filled with residents and tourists.
“It was the biggest blast I ever would imagine, lights flashing, glass shattering,” said a woman who was injured in the explosion.
The force of the explosion, she said, flung her into the air.
“It happened so fast I was thrown up and landed down, I didn’t know where it had come from,” said the woman, who would give only her first name, Helena, as she hobbled out of Bellevue Hospital Center about 4 a.m. after she was treated for injuries to her eye and legs. “I realized there was blood streaming down my face, and I couldn’t see out of my eye.”
It was a startling scene, full of dark possibilities, for a city that endured the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but has so far been spared the kind of mayhem that has terrorized city after city around the world in the 15 years since.
The closest New York has come to an attack was in 2010, when the police found a crude car bomb of propane, gasoline and fireworks inside a sport utility vehicle in Times Square. Although the device had apparently started to detonate, there was no explosion.
On Saturday night in Chelsea, the device found on West 27th Street also caused no harm.
Images shared on social media and confirmed as authentic by a senior police official showed a silver-colored piece of cookware with wires and a cellphone attached.
The official said the Police Department’s bomb squad was taking the device to a department facility in the Bronx, where robots would inspect it.
Around 2:25 a.m., a Police Department truck towing a spherical chamber, which contained the device, headed east on West 27th Street and turned up the Avenue of the Americas. Several police officers who had spent the evening on alert were visibly relieved, as one by one they let the few residents who had been waiting all night beside the caution tape return home.
It was a cool Saturday night, and the businesses along West 23rd Street, the busiest east-west thoroughfare in Chelsea, were teeming with customers.
The blast seemed to shake the entire block, smashing windows in a five-story brownstone building and sending debris into the street, a law enforcement official said.
The sidewalk where the explosion occurred is in front of a nondescript building wedged between a church and an apartment building.
Video captured before the explosion shows a man crossing “the street in the direction of where the device was found,” the same official said. But no video had yet been obtained clearly showing anyone placing the device in the spot where it detonated.
“We don’t understand the target or the significance of it,” the police official said. “It’s by a pile of Dumpsters on a random sidewalk.”
This explosion occurred on the same day as two other incidents that, at least initially, raised the question of some kind of coordination. Early in the morning on Saturday, a device exploded near the start of a charity race in Seaside Park, New Jersey, a small town on the Jersey Shore. Additionally, on Saturday evening in Minnesota a man was shot dead after stabbing eight people at a mall near Minneapolis, and at least some reports indicate that someone heard the attacker speaking Arabic prior to the attack. According to police, there were no injuries from the New Jersey explosion, no doubt due in part to the fact that the start of the race had been delayed due to fact that authorities had found an unaccounted for suspicious package elsewhere on the route of the race. That package turned out to be innocuous, though. As of now, however, authorities don’t believe that the incident in New Jersey is connected to the New York incident, or that the incident in Minnesota incident is connected to either one. Furthermore, neither of the apparent bombings at least initially appear to be connected to international terrorism, at least not yet, and it’s still unclear what the New Jersey incident was all about since the explosive device has been described alternatively as both a “pipe bomb” and a device with about the same explosive power as an M-80 firecracker.
So far at least, the Chelsea incident is only getting national attention because it occurred in New York City, which has of course been a target for international terrorists going back to at least the first attack on the World Trade Center. Viewed on its own, though, it’s unclear that this is really related to international terrorism in any case. For one thing, in the context of recent attacks in the U.S. and around the world it seems to lack that kind of impact that even the lone-wolf attackers go for in choosing their targets. If you’re going to explode a bomb in Manhattan on a Saturday night, why not choose a more visible target instead of a relatively quiet neighborhood that, based on the videos that have shown the explosion, doesn’t see much foot traffic during the day? One answer to that question, of course, could be that there’s likely less surveillance and police traffic in such neighborhoods than there is around higher value targets such as Times Square and others. Additionally, given the fact that at least one report indicates that the dumpster where the device was placed was near a construction area raises the possibility that it could have been related to something having nothing at all to do with national or international politics.
No doubt we’ll learn more over the coming hours and days, and especially after police and the FBI have had a chance to examine the second apparent device.
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