As Port Authority returns to normal, bomb investigation continues and witnesses describe ‘scary’ situation

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MIDTOWN MANHATTAN — Six million people ride the subway every day, and a quarter million ride buses daily into the Port Authority Bus Terminal. The combination of the two when a pipe bomb went off around 7:20 a.m. Monday made it very likely that high numbers of people would end up getting hurt, or worse.

But the bomber's worst intentions were never realized and the commute was almost completely back to normal for Monday evening’s rush.

"This was an attempted terror attack," said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at a news conference after the attack, which turned a normally hectic commute into a hazardous one.

It was carried out by Akayed Ullah, a 27-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant who lives in Brooklyn, NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said.

"He had burns and wounds on his body," said Commissioner James O'Neill. "It was a low tech device attached to his body."

Ullah had secured a pipe bomb to his torso with velcro and zip ties, investigators said. He suffered the worst injuries when the device apparently went off prematurely in a pedestrian passageway that connects the Port Authority transit terminal with the Times Square subway hub. The two transit centers are among the busiest in the entire system.

Only four people besides the accused bomber were hurt, none seriously. The blast did injure Ullah severely.

Part of the reason for the rapid return to normal operations was that the MTA and law enforcement were prepared,  MTA chairman Joe Lhota said.

"On November 6th we had a tabletop exercise like this with the NYPD," Lhota said. "The result is that in less than two hours, we're back in operation."

Port Authority officers, whose assigned patrol is the bus terminal, are credited with Ullah's takedown. However, hundreds of FBI, New York State Police and NYPD personnel all worked the scene after the bombing sent thousands of people running and forced the evacuations of thousands more from both transit centers.

They were back in full operation within two hours of the explosion, except for the pedestrian corridor connecting the Port Authority and Times Square where the blast occurred. When it happened, Ullah spoke of ISIS as his inspiration, investigators said.

"Did he make statements about ISIS? He did," Commissioner O'Neill said. "But we're not going to talk about that."

Instead, investigators spent hours on Monday gathering evidence that they're analyzing in detail now.

Also happening now is an acknowledgment that the potential for attacks like the one that happened on Monday is part of life in New York.

"We have prevented 26 attacks" since 9/11, said John Miller, deputy NYPD commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, "but this is a fact of life," he continued, adding that in "London, Paris and New York," the question must be asked, "Can it happen here?

"It can happen anywhere," Miller said.