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Bombing underscores the New York subway system is a vulnerability

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First session for NYC bombing suspect

Akayed Ullah reportedly sent message to President Trump prior to the underground bombings.

NEW YORK – crude pipe bomb that exploded under the streets of New York this week served as a chilling reminder of the vulnerability of the metro, a 24-hour-a-day with 472 stations and more than 5 million daily riders.

While the police say that the nation’s largest subway system has some of the greatest security that still allows busy New Yorkers to get where they’re going, they acknowledge they can’t be everywhere or anticipate every kind of attack, especially in this era of lone-wolf terrorism.

“It is very difficult, and it is becoming increasingly difficult,” John Miller, the New York Police Department deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, said on CBS’s “This Morning.” “This is not the al-Qaeda model, where a cell of people who communicate with each other with a basis of an intelligence problem.”

Instead, he said, the threat came from people “where the conspiracy within the limits of their own minds.”

Researchers say that what happened Monday, when a Bangladeshi immigrant was inducted into terrorism via the internet videos strapped with a bomb on his body and set it off in a busy road. He was the only one seriously hurt, suffering burns on his hands and torso.

Akayed Ullah, 27, was charged with federal terrorism-related crimes, punishable with up to life in prison and was informed of the charges via video Wednesday, when he was lying in his bed. He has no plea and said little during the hearing, which lasted little more than 10 minutes.

It was the second lone-wolf terror attack on the city in six weeks. On Oct. 31, a man in a rented truck mowed down pedestrians and cyclists on a busy bike path in the vicinity of the World Trade Center, killing eight people.

But the explosion of this week was the first bombing on the metro, for 23 years, a line of police attribute in a multi-layered security approach that starts with 3,000 officers every day underground, patrolling the trains and the platforms.

That is reinforced by hundreds of cameras, including one that captured detailed photos of the Monday of the explosion, and the roving teams of officers with heavy arms and dogs to sweep subway stations and trains. Officers are equipped with a pager-size radiation detectors to guard against a radioactive dirty bomb. Police also carry tens of thousands of random bag searches in the system per year.

Yet these officers are confronted every day with thousands of people from all backgrounds, from all corners of the world, with large backpacks, suitcases and large boxes, with no easy way to know if one of these articles contain a bomb.

The police have to rely on riders as their eyes and ears, constantly remember, “If you see something, say something.”

“Look up from your phone. Look up from your books now and then. Take your earbuds out. You can’t say something if you see something if you don’t have to look at” Joseph Fox, head of the NYPD’s transit bureau, urged the New Yorkers after the attack.

But the see-something, say something the system doesn’t work on Monday. Authorities said Ullah on board a subway, deep in Brooklyn, with a bomb strapped to his torso, spent nearly an hour drive to Manhattan, change trains along the way, and walked through one of the most heavily patrolled metro stations before the entry into force of the device in front of a security camera.

“We’re considering spending millions (of dollars) for the erection of a wall, maybe we should think about the use of the money for better rail and transit lines,” said James Norton, a former homeland security official and a professor at the Johns Hopkins University.

He suggested more screening of bags and passengers for the people to get on a train.

The police and the politicians have repeatedly said that the measures such as adding metal detectors and bag checks all the drives could bring the system to a crawl.

“You can’t be a person’s police on every street corner, at any time — that would not be practical,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a TV interview this week. “But in terms of the sophistication of our security system no one on the planet.”

Only six crimes reported per day in the vast subway system.

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Associated Press writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.

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