New York man arrested in alleged plot to attack Times Square

New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers patrol in Time Square after a man was arrested in an alleged plot to buy grenades for an attack on Times Square in New York, U.S., June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York man was arrested after allegedly discussing acquiring grenades and detonating them in Times Square, one of midtown Manhattan’s most crowded crossroads, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday.

Ashiqul Alam, 22, from Jackson Heights in the city’s Queens borough, was arrested on Thursday afternoon, the person said. He is expected to appear in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn later on Friday, but it was unclear what charges he would face.

The New York Police Department declined to comment on the matter and referred inquires to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which also declined to comment.

The alleged plot was uncovered after police and federal authorities learned the man had been inquiring about buying grenades and using them in Times Square, one of the most visited destinations in the United States, the New York Daily News reported.

Authorities do not believe the man had links to a wider plot involving other people, the Daily News said, citing unidentified law enforcement sources.

The man had been under surveillance for some time and authorities had been closely monitoring him, NBC News reported, citing unnamed officials.

He talked about wanting to make a suicide bomb vest as well as using explosives, and eventually settled on a shooting attack in Times Square, NBC reported.

The man had discussed potential attacks on politicians in New York and Washington before settling on a plot to attack Times Square, NBC said.

Members of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is made up of FBI agents and New York police detectives, made the arrest. The task force began tracking him and eventually took him into custody, according to media reports said.

With its millions of visitors each year, Times Square, often called the crossroads of the world, has been targeted by at least two bombers in recent years, despite its heavily-fortified police presence.

On May 1, 2010, police thwarted an attempted car bomb in Times Square, defusing a crude device made out of firecrackers and propane gas tanks.

A Pakistani-born U.S. citizen pleaded guilty to the plot, admitting that he had received bomb-making training from the Pakistani Taliban and that the group, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had funded the plot. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In December 2017, a Bangladeshi man set off a homemade pipe bomb strapped to his body in a crowded underground pedestrian tunnel near Times Square. The man, Akayed Ullah, was convicted of six criminal counts, including use of a weapon of mass destruction and support of a terrorist organization.

On Friday morning, it was business as usual in Times Square, with a bustle of people on their way to work and tourists beginning to stream into the area.

Kate Fan, a 28-year-old charity worker visiting from her home in Guangzhou, China, said that she heard about the incident but still felt safe.

“We hear a lot of stories about New York being unsafe, but we feel like people sometimes exaggerate safety issues,” she said.

(Writing and additional reporting by Meredith Mazzilli, Peter Szekely and Ayenat Mersie; Editing by Frank McGurty and Nick Zieminski)

Connecticut school evacuated for bomb threat on sixth anniversary of massacre

FILE PHOTO: The sign for the new Sandy Hook Elementary School at the end of the drive leading to the school is pictured in Newtown, Connecticut, U.S. July 29, 2016. REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin/File Photo

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – A bomb threat prompted the evacuation of a Connecticut elementary school on the site of the deadliest public-school shooting in U.S. history on Friday, the sixth anniversary of the massacre, police said.

Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where 26 children and educators were killed in 2012, received a threatening phone call around 9 a.m. EST, said police Lieutenant Aaron Bahamonde.

“It was a bomb threat over the phone,” Bahamonde said. About 400 people were evacuated, he said. No bomb was found.

Bahamonde said the threat was unrelated to a Thursday incident in which hundreds of schools, businesses and buildings across the United States and Canada receive email bomb threats demanding payment in cryptocurrency. Authorities dismissed those threats as a hoax.

On Dec. 14, 2012, a 21-year-old gunman killed 20 young children and six educators at Sandy Hook before taking his own life. The building where the massacre took place was torn down, and Sandy Hook students now attend classes in a new facility.

The mass shooting inflamed the long-running U.S. debate on gun rights, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The United States has experienced a string of deadly mass shootings since that attack, including one at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in February that left 17 people dead.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Five detained over wired explosives found in posh Paris neighborhood

By Emmanuel Jarry

PARIS (Reuters) – French counter-terrorism investigators questioned five people on Tuesday after police over the weekend found what appeared to be a ready-to-detonate bomb at an apartment building in one of Paris’s poshest neighborhoods.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said one of those arrested was on an intelligence services list of “radicalized” persons – a list that includes the names of potential Islamist militants.

“We are still in a state of war,” Collomb, speaking after a Sunday attack in which a man stabbed and killed two women outside the train station in Marseille, told France Inter radio.

Judicial sources said the explosive device included two gas canisters inside the building in the affluent 16th district of western Paris and two outside, some of them doused with petrol and wired to connect to a mobile phone.

More than 230 people have been killed in attacks by Islamist militants in France over the past three years. The Islamic State militant group, whose bases in Syria and Iraq are being bombed by French war planes, has urged followers to attack France.

Most of those killed died when Islamist gunmen and suicide bombers targeted Paris in 2015, and when a man drove a large truck into crowds in the Riviera resort of Nice in 2016.

Since then, there has been a string of attacks perpetrated by lone assailants, often targeting police or soldiers.

“The threat is changing form,” said Collomb.

A counter-terrorism investigation is also under way after the attack on Sunday, when a man slit the throat of one of his victims and killed her cousin before being shot dead by soldiers in the southern port city.

Tunisian authorities have identified the attacker as Ahmed Hanachi, Collomb told parliament. He lived in France from 2005 to 2006 and was known to police under several alias’ for petty crimes, but had not previously caught the attention of French intelligence agencies.

Hanachi was arrested in the city of Lyon on Friday on suspicion of theft. He was carrying a Tunisian passport and released 24 hours later, a day before committing the attack.

“All these years, he used multiple identities in France as well as in Italy, declaring himself to be Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian,” Collomb said.

France declared a state of emergency in late 2015 after the Paris attack, giving police special search and arrest powers to combat would-be terrorists.

Lawmakers will vote later on Tuesday on a bill to convert many of those emergency measures into common law.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Brian Love and Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Richard Lough)

Kansas man gets 30-year sentence for foiled bomb plot targeting U.S. military base

U.S. Army Soldiers, assigned to 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, fire a TOW missile from a Bradley Fighting Vehicle during training at Fort Riley, Kansas, May 18, 2016. U.S. Army photo by Capt. Jonathan Camire

(Reuters) – A Kansas man was sentenced on Monday to 30 years in federal prison for plotting a failed suicide bombing at a U.S. military base on behalf of Islamic State, federal prosecutors said.

John Booker Jr., 22, of Topeka, pleaded guilty in February to plotting the April 2015 attack on Army personnel at Fort Riley, Kansas, and aiding the Islamic State fight against the United States, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Booker was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas, on one count of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and one count of attempted destruction of government property by fire or explosion.

Booker was arrested as part of a sting operation in which he went to Fort Riley with two undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agents to detonate what he did not know was an inert bomb.

Booker had planned to build a vehicle bomb holding 1,000 pounds (455 kg) of ammonium nitrate and trigger it himself, dying in the process, the Justice Department statement said.

Prosecutors said they had tracked Booker since he posted Facebook messages in March 2014 in which he said: “Getting ready to get killed in jihad is a HUGE adrenaline rush!!” He had been in unwitting contact with an undercover FBI agent since October 2014.

A friend of Booker, Alexander Blair, of Topeka, pleaded guilty to storing bomb equipment for him and was sentenced to 15 months in prison in October 2016.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)

UCLA campus bomb scare ends, students return

FILE PHOTO: Students walk on the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) campus in Los Angeles, September 18, 2009. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

(Reuters) – The University of California Los Angeles allowed students to go back to their dormitories and resume activities early on Thursday, hours after a bomb threat forced the evacuation of campus buildings, the school said on social media.

The school said that emergency operations ended at about 12:15 a.m. Thursday, about two hours after a bomb threat was reported at the Sunset Recreation center, the university’s alert system said in a series of Tweets.

“ALL CLEAR. Resume normal activities, please use caution and increase your awareness,” the school said on the social media platform.

Josh Harmon, 16, a pre-college student at the university said he was one of about 2,500 people who were evacuated from dormitories and campus buildings to Drake Stadium, one of the school’s sports arenas.

“A lot of people are on their phones. It’s pretty relaxed,” he said in a phone interview with Reuters during the evacuation.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Man charged with threats to Jewish groups to plead guilty: U.S. prosecutor

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) – A former U.S. journalist is expected to plead guilty to a cyberstalking charge related to making bomb threats against Jewish organizations in the United States in a plot to get revenge against his ex-girlfriend, prosecutors said in letter filed on Tuesday in Manhattan federal court.

Juan Thompson, 32, is set to appear in court next Monday morning to enter a guilty plea, according to the letter, submitted by Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim in Manhattan.

Thompson’s attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment. Before his extradition to New York, he denied the charges, said he had no anti-Semitic beliefs and said he was being framed and targeted as a black man.

“Make no mistake: this is a modern-day lynching,” he said in a telephone interview from the Warren County jail in Missouri.

The prosecution’s letter did not give details about the planned plea, which will not become final until Thompson enters it in court. Thompson was arrested in St. Louis, Missouri on March 3, and has been in custody since then, charged with one count of cyberstalking.

Federal prosecutors have said Thompson engaged in a vicious, months-long harassment campaign against his ex-girlfriend, using various email accounts to accuse her of possessing child pornography, driving drunk and, finally, making bomb threats targeting Jewish groups.

Thompson made some threats in his own name and then accused his ex-girlfriend of framing him, and made other threats posing as her, prosecutors said.

U.S. authorities have been investigating a surge of threats against Jewish organizations, including more than 100 bomb threats against community centers in dozens of states in separate waves since January.

The organizations Thompson threatened included a Jewish museum in New York and the Anti-Defamation League, according to a criminal complaint in Manhattan federal court. All occurred after the first flood of phone threats in early January.

Thompson was a reporter for the Intercept news website, which fired him last year saying he invented sources and quotes.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

U.S. Jewish centers report second wave of bomb threats in one month

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Several Jewish community centers in different U.S. states reported receiving false telephone bomb threats on Wednesday in the second wave of promised attacks to target American Jewish facilities this month.

The Jewish Community Center Association, a network of the health and education centers, said on Twitter it was aware of a number of threats and was working with local authorities to ensure people’s safety.

In Miami Beach, a center received a call at 9:54 a.m. (1454 GMT) and was evacuated, local police said on Twitter. Officers and police dogs searched the area but found no bomb and the center reopened, they said.

Two centers in Connecticut said on Facebook they had received threatening phone calls and had evacuated. No bombs were found, they said.

A series of bomb threats on Jan. 9 targeted 16 Jewish community centers in nine U.S. states, resulting in no attacks or injuries but prompting the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into the source of the calls. Some of the calls were made using an automated “robocall” system.

No one claimed responsibility for the earlier bomb threats, and the FBI has not named any suspects or described a likely motive for them.

An FBI spokeswoman could not immediately be reached on Wednesday.

(Reporting by David Ingram in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Man found wearing fake bomb belt causes security scare in jittery Brussels

closed street due to bomb threat

By Robert-Jan Bartunek and Ines Kagubare

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A man who said he was wearing a bomb belt rigged to explode by remote control caused a major scare in a Brussels commercial district on Tuesday before police found the device contained only salt and biscuits, officials said.

The Belgian capital of 1.2 million people remains on edge under a high security alert three months after three Islamic State suicide bombers blew themselves up at Brussels Airport and in a metro train, killing 32 people.

On Tuesday, Brussels police detained a man near the bustling City2 shopping center after he announced that he was strapped with explosives that would be set off remotely. The area was sealed off while bomb experts checked the man’s belt.

The man, born in 1990 and identified as J.B., had called police himself to say he had been kidnapped and forced to don an explosives belt. It proved to be a false alarm.

“J.B. is known to police, also because of mental problems,” a Brussels prosecutors spokeswoman said.

The man remained in police custody but had to be freed within 24 hours unless a judge approved a request from prosecutors to place him under formal arrest and to be examined by a psychiatrist.

In 2014 J.B. told police he had been ordered to go to Syria to join Islamist militants fighting in the civil war there, an incident that remains under investigation, prosecutors said.

Police also located a car that J.B. said had brought him to the shopping mall and questioning the owner before releasing him when it transpired that J.B. had only memorized a random number plate.

Belgium’s Crisis Centre, which oversees security measures, convened with Prime Minister Charles Michel and Interior Minister Jan Jambon present to discuss Tuesday’s incident.

(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Bomb threats target more than 30 schools in Northeast, Midwest

(Reuters) – Bomb threats were made against more than two dozen schools in New Jersey on Tuesday, and also against schools in Massachusetts, Delaware and Iowa, forcing evacuations and lockdowns that affected thousands of students.

At least 26 schools in New Jersey received the threats by phone starting at about 8:50 a.m. EST, said Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino, adding that the schools were all subsequently given the all clear.

“When we catch the people doing this, an example is going to be made,” Saudino said.

The threats, made in a robotic voice, appeared to come from computer-generated phone numbers that could be traced back to a location in Bakersfield, California, Saudino said.

Bergen County prosecutor Gurbir Grewal said his office felt confident it would help catch the culprits.

“There are digital fingerprints and we will follow up on each and every lead,” Grewal said.

The threats, which may have been automated because they were so similar, were received by high schools in Teaneck, Garfield, Tenafly, Clifton, Fair Lawn, Leonia, Bergenfield, Englewood and Hackensack, police said.

In addition to the bomb threats, at least one school was threatened with being targeted for a mass shooting, police said.

In Massachusetts, Arlington High School just outside Boston was evacuated and students were dismissed for the day early on Tuesday after officials reported a threat of a possible attack using bombs and guns, local police said.

Police said on Twitter they did not regard the attack as credible but that the evacuation was carried out as a precaution. Arlington police said they later determined the threat to be “unfounded.”

Nine Boston-area schools were the targets of similar threats on Friday.

Delaware State Police said they were also investigating threats made by phone call in a robotic or computer generated-style voice to at least three schools.

The threats made at about 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday resulted in elementary schools in Millsboro, Middletown and a high school in Greenwood being evacuated, police said in a statement. Police did not release information about the nature of the threats.

Iowa City West High School, in Iowa City, also received a phoned-in bomb threat on Tuesday, according to local media. The call was received at about 8:40 a.m. and forced students and faculty to be transported to an off-site location. Neither the school district nor city police could immediately confirm the reports.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg, Laila Kearney and Scott Malone; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)