New York police probing motorist who drove into Times Square protesters

(Reuters) – New York City detectives are trying to determine whether a motorist who drove into a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters in Times Square on Thursday night committed a crime, the city’s police commissioner said.

Video of the incident, shared widely on social media, shows a black Ford Taurus driving through a group of marchers and people on bicycles in Times Square, a major tourist destination and entertainment center in Manhattan.

New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said on Friday that detectives were investigating the incident. He noted that no one has come forward with injuries and that two protesters had struck the window of the car.

“We have to interview both sides. We’d like to interview anyone that was in that vehicle, because we believe there was multiple people in that vehicle, and anyone that was on the scene,” Shea said on Fox 5’s Good Day New York.

The demonstrators had gathered to protest the death of Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man, after an encounter with police in Rochester, New York, in March. The incident has become the latest flash point in a summer of civil unrest over racism and police brutality.

The Times Square protest followed similar demonstrations in Rochester this week triggered by the release of body camera footage of Prude’s arrest showing police officers putting a hood over his head – apparently to prevent his spit from possibly transmitting the novel coronavirus – as he knelt on the ground, handcuffed and naked.

Seven police officers were suspended on Thursday in connection with Prude’s arrest and death, which the medical examiner has ruled a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” An autopsy also cited acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or the drug PCP, among additional contributing factors to his death, according to the New York Times.

Prude’s family has called for the arrest of the officers involved in the March 23 incident in the upstate New York city.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Bees besiege Times Square street, drawing swarm of tourists

A swarm of bees land on a hot dog cart in Times Square in New York City, U.S., August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

NEW YORK (Reuters) – It was a case of hold the honey, double the mustard in Times Square at lunchtime on Tuesday.

Police shut part of 43rd Street near Seventh Avenue after a thick swarm of bees gathered atop a blue and yellow umbrella over a hotdog cart in an area of Manhattan already buzzing with swarms of pedestrians, tourists and traffic.

A police officer who keeps bees himself, arrived at the scene in Times Square, known as “The Crossroads of the World,” at 2:30 p.m. (EST), wearing a mesh-hooded beekeeper suit. He deployed a vacuum cleaner-like device to collect the bees unharmed, said New York Police Detective Sophia Mason.

People react to a swarm of bees in Times Square in New York City, U.S., August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

People react to a swarm of bees in Times Square in New York City, U.S., August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The scene drew crowds of tourists taking photographs.

“It took about 45 minutes to suck them up,” Mason said. “They are at an undisclosed location. They will rehive them.”

No one was injured in the incident, Mason said.

“The bees just wanted some hot dogs,” she added.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Chris Reese)

New York police poised to thwart New Year’s Eve suicide bombers

New York Police Department Counterterrorism Bureau members stand in Times Square to provide security ahead of New Year's Eve celebrations in Manhattan, New York, U.S. December 28, 2017

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The New York Police Department is providing officers with specialized training to stop any suicide bombers at Sunday’s New Year’s Eve celebration, when up to 2 million people will flood the streets of Times Square, officials said on Thursday.

The stepped-up training is in response to an attempted bombing in a Times Square subway station walkway on Dec. 11. It comes on top of increasingly stringent security for the city’s New Year’s Eve celebration in the years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The New York Police Department will also deploy observation teams trained to spot snipers, increase the number of explosive-detecting dogs and position more officers throughout the area this year.

Police have said they will incorporate lessons learned from what they have labeled as three terrorist attacks in the city in the past 15 months, in addition to their ongoing analysis of all attacks worldwide.

That intelligence will form part of the massive security operation for the “ball drop” celebration, a tradition that dates to 1907 and is now televised around the world.

“You will see an increase in heavy weapons, bomb squad personnel, radiological detection teams, and our technology to include over 1,000 cameras in and around the area of Times Square for the event,” the NYPD’s chief of counterterrorism, James Waters, told a news conference, two days before the event.

Officers involved in the New Year’s Eve security operation will receive a tactical bulletin and a training video on suicide bombers that they will be able to review on their department-issued phones starting Friday.

“We owe it to the cops to give them some kind of guidelines,” Waters said.

The training material will include instructions on protecting bystanders if officers suspect someone has a bomb and guidance on apprehending and disarming suspects with the assistance of the bomb squad, he said.

Police will also be on the lookout for snipers in response to the mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival on Oct. 1, when a 64-year-old American opened fire from his 32nd-floor hotel room, killing 58 people and wounding some 500.

Detectives posted in hotels will keep an eye on guests, and additional emergency services and critical response teams will be on hand, Police Commissioner James O’Neill said.

O’Neill declined to say how many of the department’s 36,000 officers will work on New Year’s Eve, in order to keep would-be attackers guessing.

People who want to see the New Year’s Eve musical acts and other entertainment up close in Times Square will have to pass by dogs trained to detect explosives and heavily armed officers, go through a magnetometer to check for weapons, have their bags inspected, and then repeat all those steps a second time.

Police will again use dump trucks filled with sand, police cars and cement blocks to close streets starting at 11 a.m. on Sunday. About 125 parking garages in the vicinity will be emptied of all cars and sealed.

Even so, police acknowledged a possible suicide bomber could manage to get close to large crowds of people before the checkpoints are set up, as evident by the Dec. 11 attack.

On that day, police said, a Bangladeshi man set off a homemade pipe bomb strapped to his body in a subway pedestrian tunnel beneath Times Square, wounding himself and two bystanders.

Asked how to stop someone with such an intent, Waters said, “As a last resort: deadly physical force.”

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Frank McGurty and Leslie Adler)

New York charges Times Square bomb suspect; Bangladesh questions wife

New York charges Times Square bomb suspect; Bangladesh questions wife

By Ruma Paul and Daniel Trotta

DHAKA/NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York officials on Tuesday said they charged a Bangladeshi man with terrorism, accusing him of setting off a pipe bomb a day earlier in a crowded Manhattan commuter hub, as investigators in his home country questioned his wife.

Akayed Ullah, 27, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, supporting an act of terrorism, and making a terroristic threat under New York state law, the New York Police Department said, adding U.S. authorities may also bring federal charges.

Investigators in Bangladesh were questioning Ullah’s wife, according to two officials who declined to be identified as they were not permitted to discuss the matter publicly. They did not provide details on the questioning, but said the couple have a six-month-old baby boy.

“We have found his wife and in-laws in Dhaka. We are interviewing them,” one of the police officials told Reuters.

New York police say Ullah set off a pipe bomb in an underground corridor of the subway system that connects Times Square to the Port Authority Bus Terminal at rush hour on Monday morning, injuring himself and three others.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called it an attempted terrorist attack, and U.S. officials said it appeared to be a rare if not unprecedented attempt at suicide bombing on U.S. soil.

Ullah survived with burns and lacerations and was taken to hospital in police custody. The three bystanders sustained minor injuries.

The NYPD and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were conducting the investigation in conjunction with other agencies through the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and were asking the public for any information about the suspect.

Authorities in Bangladesh began to track down Ullah’s family soon after news of the attack broke and they first found a cousin, said a third official, Mahiuddin Mahmud.

“We learned from his cousin that he had a wife and a baby in Bangladesh,” Mahmud said.

The cousin, Emdad Ullah, told Reuters that Ullah and his family originally lived in the Chittagong region in southern Bangladesh, but had moved to the capital, Dhaka, years ago.

Ullah married a Bangladeshi woman about two years ago and she lived in Dhaka, the cousin said, adding that he was educated in Bangladesh before he moved to the United States.

Bangladesh’s police chief had told Reuters on Monday that Ullah had no criminal record in his home country, which he last visited in September.

Ullah lived with his mother, sister and two brothers in Brooklyn and was a green card holder, said Shameem Ahsan, consul general of Bangladesh in New York.

A U.S. enforcement official familiar with the investigation into Monday’s attack said officers had found evidence that Ullah had watched Islamic State propaganda on the internet.

IMMIGRATION REFORM

Bangladesh strongly condemned the attack.

“A terrorist is a terrorist irrespective of his or her ethnicity or religion, and must be brought to justice,” the government said in a statement.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday said the attack emphasized the need for U.S. immigration reforms.

“America must fix its lax immigration system, which allows far too many dangerous, inadequately vetted people to access our country,” he said in a statement.

The president also criticized the visa program that allowed Ullah to enter the United States in 2011 because he had family members already in the country, saying such family visas are “incompatible with national security.”

H.T. Imam, a political adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said he believed the attack would have no “negative impact” on relations with the United States.

“The U.S. government is well informed about the Bangladesh government’s attitude regarding terror activities,” Imam said.

The U.S. Supreme Court last week handed a victory to Trump by allowing his latest travel ban, targeting people from six Muslim-majority countries, to go into full effect even as legal challenges continued in lower courts.

The ban covers people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen seeking to enter the United States. Trump has said the travel ban is needed to protect the United States from terrorism by Islamist militants.

Bangladesh is not among the countries impacted by the ban.

(Additional reporting by Serajul Quadir; Writing by Euan Rocha and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)

Times Square driver who mowed down pedestrians denies guilt

FILE PHOTO: A vehicle that struck pedestrians and later crashed is seen on the sidewalk in Times Square in New York City, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The man accused of killing a woman and injuring 22 others by using his car to cut a three-block swath through the crowded sidewalks of New York’s Times Square denied all charges on Thursday related to the May attack, prosecutors said.

Richard Rojas, 26, pleaded not guilty to second degree murder, second degree attempted murder and first and second degree assault, prosecutors said. A grand jury indicted him on May 24.

Rojas, a Navy veteran, drove his Honda sedan down Seventh Avenue on May 18 and made a U-turn, mowing down pedestrians on sidewalks for three city blocks before crashing, prosecutors said. His lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.

Alyssa Elsman, an 18-year-old woman visiting from Michigan, was killed, while 22 other pedestrians suffered various injuries, some serious.

After the car crashed, the driver was subdued by onlookers and police as he tried to flee on foot.

Rojas previously told the New York Post in a tearful jailhouse interview shortly after the crash that he had unsuccessfully sought psychiatric care and had no recollection of the incident.

He was believed to be under the influence of some intoxicating substance, a police source previously told Reuters, while law enforcement officials told ABC News he was apparently high on synthetic marijuana.

Rojas has had numerous run-ins with the law over the past decade, according to Navy and public court records. He has had at least four prior arrests, including two for drunken driving and one for allegedly threatening a man with a knife outside his apartment in New York City’s Bronx borough.

While serving in the Navy in 2013, he spent two months in a military jail in South Carolina, though records do not disclose the reason.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Bernard Orr)

Driver indicted in deadly Times Square attack, crash

FILE PHOTO: A vehicle that struck pedestrians and later crashed is seen on the sidewalk in Times Square in New York City, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Gina Cherelus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A grand jury has indicted the driver charged with killing a young woman and injuring 22 people when he careened through three blocks in New York City’s crowded Times Square, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

Richard Rojas, 26, is scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment on July 13.

Authorities say Rojas drove his Honda sedan down Seventh Avenue on May 18, made a U-turn and mowed down pedestrians on the packed sidewalk for three city blocks before crashing. Alyssa Elsman, an 18-year-old woman from Michigan, was killed.

The driver was subdued by onlookers and police as he tried to flee on foot.

The charges in the indictment were not immediately made public. Rojas, who did not appear at the Wednesday hearing, was previously charged with second-degree murder, vehicular homicide and multiple counts of attempted murder.

His defense lawyer, Enrico Demarco, declined to comment after the brief hearing.

Rojas, who served in the Navy, told the New York Post in a tearful jailhouse interview last week that he had unsuccessfully sought psychiatric care, and said he had no recollection of the incident.

He was believed to be under the influence of some intoxicating substance, a police source has told Reuters, while law enforcement officials told ABC News he was apparently high on synthetic marijuana.

Rojas has had numerous run-ins with the law over the past decade, according to Navy and public court records. He has had at least four prior arrests, two for drunken driving, and one earlier this month for allegedly threatening another man with a knife outside his apartment in New York City’s Bronx borough.

While serving in the Navy in 2013, he spent two months in a military jail in South Carolina, though records do not indicate why.

Of the 13 attack victims Bellevue Hospital received, nine have been released, the health provider said in a statement on Wednesday. One of the remaining patients is in critical condition, another is in serious condition and the other two are in fair or good shape, it said.

The last of six victims sent to Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai St. Luke’s hospitals was released on Tuesday, a spokeswoman said.

(Additional reporting by Laila Kearney; editing by Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)

Three in critical condition after car plows through Times Square

People walk between newly erected concrete barricades outside the 3 Times Square building in Times Square where a speeding vehicle struck pedestrians Thursday in New York City, U.S., May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Jonathan Allen and Gina Cherelus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Three people remained in critical condition on Friday after a driver plowed into pedestrians in New York City’s Times Square the day before, killing a young woman on vacation and injuring her sister and 19 others, police said.

Richard Rojas, the 26-year-old motorist, accelerated as he turned onto the sidewalk and appeared to have intentionally tried to mow down pedestrians, Mayor Bill de Blasio and police said. He is due in court in Manhattan later on Friday to face charges of murder, attempted murder and vehicular homicide.

Rojas, who had served in the U.S. Navy, has prior convictions for drunk driving. Police said he was intoxicated as he knocked pedestrians into the air while speeding for three blocks in his burgundy Honda sedan through one of the city’s busiest areas. The car crashed into a metal stanchion.

“People are being dragged, they’re on top of the car,” Bill Aubry, a New York Police Department assistant chief, told a news conference on Friday.

“He left his house at 10:30 yesterday morning, and at 11:54 he came to Times Square,” Aubry said. “There were no incidents in between. That goes to his state of mind. He waited for these cars to pass, and he accelerated.”

Results of drug tests on Rojas are expected in the next few days, Aubry said.

City officials do not consider the incident an act of terrorism, de Blasio said.

“It appears to be intentional in the sense that he was troubled and lashing out,” the mayor said in an interview with radio station WNYC. He said Rojas had “an untreated mental health issue going back probably decades.”

Police said the young woman killed on the sidewalk was Alyssa Elsman, 18, who was on vacation with her family from Michigan. People were leaving flowers, photographs of Elsman and a stuffed teddy bear on Friday near the spot where she died.

Her sister remained in the hospital in critical condition, with a collapsed lung and broken pelvis, Aubry said. A 38-year-old woman from Canada was in very critical condition.

The fire department said earlier that 22 people were injured, but police on Friday said the number was 20.

Rojas, who lives with his mother in New York City’s Bronx borough, had been arrested twice for drunken driving, in 2008 and 2015, and once this month on a charge of menacing for threatening another man with a knife, police said.

Rojas faces charges of one count of second-degree murder, five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and 20 counts of attempted murder, police said.

Although only one person was killed, a driver can face multiple counts of vehicular homicide under New York law if other people are seriously injured. It was unclear if Rojas has a lawyer.

Navy records show Rojas enlisted in September 2011 and was based in Illinois and Florida, working as an electrician’s mate fireman apprentice.

He was arrested a year later at a naval base in Jacksonville, Florida, where officials said he attacked a cab driver, shouted “my life is over,” and threatened to kill police, according to court records. Rojas was charged at the time with misdemeanor battery and resisting an officer without violence, but it was unclear how the case was resolved.

He spent two months in a military prison in Charleston, South Carolina, in the summer of 2013, but the Navy records did not say why. He left the Navy in May 2014.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Gina Cherelus; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa Von Ahn)

Jesus Takes Over Times Square

For an hour on April 24th, New York City’s Times Square proclaimed the name of Jesus.

Hillsong Church bought all the screens in the square and played a loop of a video that flashed “Jesus” and “No Other Name”.  Hillsong is releasing a new album called “No Other Name” and is hosting conferences this year, but the video did not say anything about the church.

Hillsong members in the Square that night reported many passersby stopping to look at the display, openly wondering what business was behind the loop of Jesus and “No Other Name”.

“Times Square, one of the most iconic locations on Earth, is a place where so many names scream for fame,” Hillsong Art and Communications Director Jay Argaet said.  “The most powerful brands, biggest shows and famous celebrities.  Every name wants to be the greatest!  Perhaps this would be the most powerful way to remind the world HIS name trumps them all.”

The “No Other Name” campaign is based on Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”