RAW: Witness assists the injured at scene of a powerful explosion from a explosive device the injured at least 29 people in New York’s popular Chelsea neighborhood on Saturday. Video courtesy of Ramón Lopez. Ramón Lopez / NorthJersey.com
Several experts including a former New York City police commissioner said Sunday the explosion that injured 29 people on a Manhattan street was clearly an act of terrorism, and they were perplexed that Mayor Bill de Blasio called it only “an intentional act.”
“It is absolutely an act of terrorism. I couldn’t disagree with him (de Blasio) more,” Howard Safir, who was police commissioner from 1996 to 2000, said in an interview. “I think they do a disservice to the public when they try to sugar coat something that is a horrific act.”
He said people should realize this is a new era. “As we are more successful on the battlefields in the Middle East, our adversaries are looking for a target,” Safir said.
Jerome Hauer, a former commissioner of the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, said de Blasio might be trying to maintain public calm by not calling the explosion a terrorist attack, “but it’s certainly an act of terrorism.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday there is “no evidence of an international terrorism connection” and appeared to hedge in characterizing the explosion Saturday night in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.
“It depends on your definition of terrorism. A bomb exploding in New York is obviously an act of terrorism, but it’s not linked to international terrorism. In other words, we find no (Islamic State) connections,” said Cuomo, a Democrat.
No individual or group has publicly claimed credit for the explosion, which occurred around 8:30 p.m. Saturday on a bustling, restaurant-lined street in the largely residential neighborhood. It was caused by a homemade device. A second device believed to be a pressure cooker with wires and cellphone was later found four blocks away and was safely removed early Sunday.
Experts said Sunday that the explosion meets the principle federal definition of “domestic terrorism,” which was added to federal statutes by the USA Patriot Act shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Federal law defines domestic terrorism as “acts dangerous to human life” that appear intended to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population” or to influence government policy.
“It seems to meet the bar of the FBI’s definition,” said Frank Ciluffo, a former special assistant for homeland security to President George W. Bush who now directs the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security in Washington, D.C. “We still don’t have all the information here and don’t know specifically what motivated the individual. But clearly it was pre-meditated. Clearly it was targeting innocent civilians.”
Video shows moment of IED Explosion at W 23 St & 6th Ave in Manhattan pic.twitter.com/O270bZWOzF
— New York City Alerts (@NYCityAlerts) September 18, 2016
Other parts of federal law define “terrorism” slightly differently. A “federal crime of terrorism” is defined as an “offense” that is “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.” The definition says nothing about civilians.
In the section of federal law dealing with foreign relations, “terrorism” is defined as “premeditated, politically motivated violence” undertaken by “subnational groups” against civilian targets.
Officials have previously been cautious in declaring attacks to be acts of terrorism. In December, the day after a married couple of Pakistani-descent in San Benardino, Calif., killed 14 people in a mass shooting, the agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office would not call the attack an act of terrorism.
“It would be irresponsible and premature of me to call this an act of terrorism,” David Bowdich told the news media then. “The FBI defines terrorism very specifically, and we are still — that is the big question for us. What is the motivation for this?”