NEW YORK - When 27-year-old Akayed Ullah allegedly strapped on a crude pipe bomb and detonated it in a crowded subway passageway Monday, he became the third terrorist in just 15 months to attempt to kill New Yorkers in the name of ISIS.
"We're going to piece together who is he, what's he all about?" NYPD Counterterrorism Chief James Waters said. "Who are his family members, associates, his contacts? Why did he do this?"
Still, it's safe to say the NYPD likely had a good idea what they were dealing with almost from the start. The young Bangladeshi immigrant had much in common with Sayfullo Saipov, who is accused of killing eight people in a truck attack on a bike path just weeks ago, and he had much in common with Ahmed Rahimi, who used a pressure cooker bomb to injure dozens in Chelsea last September.
"They all fit the profile of these lone wolves that I call self-activated," said Dr. Christopher Taylor, head of Islamic Studies at Drew University. "They are young, angry men in the age group between 20 and early 30s."
And like Saipov and Rahimi, Ullah was not on the radar of the FBI or NYPD.
The three also bounced around from job to job, and they became self-radicalized by consuming endless hours of ISIS and Al-Qaeda propaganda on the internet while having no direct connection to either terrorist organization.
Even with the defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the three "lone wolves" represent a troubling escalation in attacks on New Yorkers that's not likely to subside any time soon, according to Dr. Taylor.
"ISIS will gradually fade from the scene now that it's been destroyed as a state," he said. "But rest assured, there will be other extremist groups that will rise. And this is the struggle that will take decades to successfully end."
Stopping a lone wolf before he or she strikes is the challenge for the NYPD. Dr. Taylor says maintaining good ties with the New York and New Jersey Muslim communities is crucial as a trip wire to detect the self-radicalized before they attack.
The FBI says there is role for all of us here.
"Look up from your phone, maybe take one of your earbuds out," said William Sweeney, assistant director of the FBI in New York. "Pay attention to what's happening around you."
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