NYC blast: ‘No matter what the cause is and who is behind it, the violence should be stopped’

New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers stand near the site of an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 18, 2016 © Rashid Umar Abbasi
Is there a connection between the explosions in New York and New Jersey? How might these explosions change the political climate in the US with the upcoming election? Are similar incidents possible in the near future? RT asked experts.

A blast rocked New York on Saturday in Midtown Manhattan in the neighborhood of Chelsea, injuring 29 people. Just a few blocks from the Manhattan explosion, the NYPD Bomb Squad removed a second potential explosive device.

Officials say there is no evidence so far to link the incident to any terrorist organization. The mayor of New York called the incident an “intentional act.”

Daniel Wagner, managing director at Risk Solutions, noted the timing of the explosion. With less than two months remaining before the presidential election on November 8, he did not rule it out that the attack could be aimed at sowing fear among the population and making people question the state of security in the country.

RT: The New York Fire Department stated that it was an explosive device that went off in Manhattan on 23rd street. Authorities said it was a deliberate, criminal act, but said that investigators had turned up no evidence of a “terror connection.”

Daniel Wagner: The FBI’s own definition of what constitutes terrorism is either an attempt to coerce the population, or an attempt to have influence on government policy. Although there is no formal declaration yet by any group or any individual, who is claiming credit for these actions, it seems to me certainly within the realm of possibility that this was an act of terrorism based on the FBI’s own definition. And if we dig down a little bit further, we think about: “Well, has this happened before?” Yes, it certainly has. Since the 1970’s and 1980’s pipe bombs have been used by individuals and groups who are seeking to do just that – ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to anti-IRS protesters…   

RT: Who do you think might be behind the explosion if it was, indeed, an attack?

DW: It is premature to speculate on who might be behind it. I think we can talk about the wider picture. The wider picture to me in this presidential election – with less than two months left before the election – is that if someone was inclined to sow fear among the population and make the population of the US question the degree of security that they have on a daily basis, well this is the sort of thing that might just do that. If that is the case, throughout the campaign, Donald Trump has spoken about the absence of real security and many people have said in the past that if acts of terror were to occur before the election that it might just propel those voters who are on the fence to [vote for] Trump.

Manhattan blast likely to be politicized by both parties

It does not matter whether the recent explosions in the US are connected or not, they need to be looked into and the violence should be stopped, says Jennifer Breedon, legal analyst and anti-terrorism expert.

RT: There were also bomb explosions in the New Jersey beach town of Seaside Park and Virginia in a downtown mall. Do you think these incidents might be linked?

Jennifer Breedon: One of the things we’re looking at – people that have the capabilities to make dirty bombs… anybody with the ideology or with the mindset can make a dirty bomb. So that is a pipe bomb we’re looking at in New Jersey and New Jersey Shore area, Semper Fi 5K race – it is just another way to say that “we can get you.” I think one of the biggest problems now is the fact that we have a government these days that is just so afraid to offend anybody or anything else. We’re really not actively calling out on what things are. We’re not investigating people that could have ties to terrorism. So now they are saying: “Because of that, we can get you; it doesn’t matter what the target is – we can get you.”  

RT: How do you think these explosions might change the political climate in the US with the upcoming election?

JB: That is what’s unfortunate. One of the most unfortunate things is that often times, especially in the race like the one that we’ve seen in the US, nothing can really just be what it is – which is an incident that we need to thank God that nobody [was] killed… Unfortunately it is going to be politicized, likely by both parties, and we just hope that we can look at what the real issue is, which is that no matter how many people are injured, or what the cause of these crimes, or whether they are connected or not connected is an issue that we need to look into no matter who is elected – we need to make sure that we stop this kind of violence and promote our national security.

Loner more likely than ‘usual suspects’

It is unlikely that someone who is at the level of the terrorists who committed attacks in Europe is behind the Manhattan and New Jersey blasts, says Brian Levin from Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. 

RT: There was also an explosion in New Jersey on Saturday. What’s your take on both explosions? 

Brian Levin: We have three types of symbolic attacks. The first – ideologically motivated – can either be political, religious, or hybrid. Two: psychologically dangerous, someone who is either a sociopath, or someone who’s got some kind of degree of impairment. Third: personal benefit revenge.

Many years ago, decades… there was a guy called the Mad Bomber, George Metesky. He went around the city making bombs. He had his own personal dispute. These seem to be lower-level types of explosives, lower IED’s [Improvised explosive device], something like pipe bombs… Pipe bombs are instrumentalities that traditionally have more been used by domestic American terrorists. But now everybody is sharing information, even if they don’t belong to an ideology, because the internet is out there. What we can suspect is that that is probably a loner, at worst perhaps a leader with one other person.

But I think it’s going to be solved sooner rather than later – not saying tonight or tomorrow. There are a lot of cameras out there, there is a lot of forensic evidence. I don’t think we’re dealing with someone who is at the level of the folks that we’ve see in Europe, or something like that. This is not the kind of attack that causes mass fatalities. What that shows me is someone who does not have the sophistication of a hardened terrorist, if you will.

RT: Do you expect similar incidents to occur in the near future?

Brian Levin: Yes, with the caveat: the hit’s on now. So let’s see how smart or not so smart. Is this someone now who is unstable and almost wants to be caught, making some kind of idiosyncratic statement? We just don’t know. Pipe bombers generally – not all the time, and we don’t know for sure whether this one is or is not – tend to act alone. Let’s see if this person is connected to an ideology, but I doubt very much that this person is directly coordinated by larger group. We’re talking about something more autonomous and most likely, though not conclusively, a loner, and we can’t count out some kind of idiosyncratic or hybrid reason in addition to the “usual suspects.”

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.