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Police Respond to Explosion Near Times Square; Fire Department: Four Injured In Explosion Near Times Square. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 11, 2017 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:00:21] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We do begin with major breaking news this Monday morning. An explosion near Times Square, here in the heart of New York City. An NYPD source tells CNN a man wearing a homemade device attempted to detonate it, but it either malfunctioned or did not go off as planned. That suspect is now in custody.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We have a team of reporters covering this story for us. CNN's Brynn Gingras here. Our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz on the phone.

Let's go first to Brynn for the very latest on what we know.

Brynn, again, we're looking at live pictures of the scene right now.

HARLOW: Right.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we are. So we know that this went off, some sort of device, though, as you said, not as planned or malfunctioned in some way. That's according to NYPD sources. Somewhere in the Port Authority.

Now, let's remember, the Port Authority is made up of bus terminals, it's made up of subways here in New York City and it stretches several avenues. So it's large. Precisely where this took place, we're not quite sure. But we do know that the device was on a person, a man, and that man was injured and is now in police custody.

I was even told from a source that they saw him on a stretcher, he was alive. So that is something that they are going to be talking about -- talking to right now.

As far as other injuries, it's unclear if there were other injuries. I know that there has been reporting that there wasn't anything significant, huge about this. Certainly, the scope of this is huge, but as far as injuries and the damage that it caused, it isn't. So that's the good news there. But certainly this is a major scare for New York City.

BERMAN: 220,000 passenger trips a day through Port Authority. Tens and tens of thousands of people walk through these tunnels, get off the buses there. HARLOW: And this is Monday rush hour.

GINGRAS: Right.

BERMAN: Exactly.

HARLOW: This is Monday rush hour. Let's go to our Jason Carroll, our correspondent down at the scene.

Jason, what are you seeing? What are people saying from the location where you are, right in front of it?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, let me just show you. We are actually, as you are correct, right in front of the Port Authority at 41st and 8th Avenues. You can see a number of police still here at the scene. We are in what we're being told is one of the frozen zones. A secure area that they've set up along 8th Avenue.

You can still see that there are hundreds literally of people still stuck in zones along 8th Avenue, trying to make their way to work, trying to make their way out of the area.

I can tell you what we've heard from some eyewitnesses at the scene. One MTA worker, she was downstairs underground -- let me just let this vehicle go through there -- in the area, downstairs, underground. She said she heard a loud boom.

She was working at the MTA booth. She said she immediately started running, Poppy, as did everyone else below as well. In fact she said she left her phone, she left her coat. She ran into one of our producers. Our producer gave her her phone so she could call her daughter at home to let her know that she was OK.

I heard from another witness as well who was on a bus coming into the Port Authority because, as you know, this is a hub that connects trains, connects buses as well. She said police got to the bus, told everyone to get off immediately, and just to run. So you can imagine some of the fear and panic that people were experiencing when this all -- when this all went down.

But again, we're here at 41st and 8th Avenue, right in front, again, we're just going to -- Jamie, why won't you show them what we can see out here? Right here in front of the Port Authority. You can see there are a number of police, emergency vehicles that are here as well. Again, inside a frozen zone.

We are expecting to hear from the NYPD in just about 15, 20 minutes from now, where we're told a press conference will be scheduled -- Poppy.

BERMAN: All right, Jason, see what you can find out while you're there.

Meanwhile, I want to bring in Shimon Prokupecz, our crime and justice reporter, to get a sense of what you've been hearing from your sources -- Shimon.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Hey, John, Poppy. So, obviously, treating this, you know, as they would anything of this nature, as a terror attack right now. We don't have any indication that it is or isn't, but look, it doesn't take a lot to figure out that this, you know, could likely head that way. And as we know, this was a -- some sort of homemade device. How it was made, all of that is obviously part of the investigation.

But we're told that police have, as you know, the suspect in custody. They've been -- they've had some communications with him. They have been able to talk to him. They have been able to identify him. They know where he is from. They know where he -- at least where he was staying, where he was living. So they have a lot of information that they're working on.

And now sort of, as they do in these cases, they want to make sure that he's not acting as part of a group, that, he is, in fact, acting alone. That this wasn't part of anything bigger. So right now, that's really the priority for the FBI and for the NYPD and for the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Just to make sure that he was acting alone, that he wasn't working with anyone.

[09:05:12] They have not told us officially that this is terrorism or that this isn't terrorism. But certainly this has the makings of something like that. And I think the key right now for them is really, really to make sure that he wasn't acting with anyone else.

HARLOW: Shimon, we appreciate the reporting. Thank you so much.

Joining us now, Joseph Giacalone, former NYPD sergeant, law enforcement trainer, as well as Howard Safir, former NYPD police commissioner. He was in the position that the current commissioner is in now, who's going to give a press conference in just a few minutes, so you know what it's like to hold this seat, and for moments like this for New York City and for the country.

How big of a near-miss is this?

HOWARD SAFIR, FORMER NYPD POLICE COMMISSIONER: Well, this is a huge near miss, but we're very fortunate that it appears the device did not go off properly and the only injury is to the suspect. He's going to be a tremendous treasure-trove of intelligence. As I understand, he's been in this country seven years. He is from Brooklyn. He has a foreign name, although it's not been articulated what that name is. But we're very lucky hearing, of course, what the NYPD would do initially is to mitigate the situation, make sure there are no other bombs, and look for preservation of life.

Now that the incident appears to be over, they'll be going to his apartment, they'll be checking with police and associated with and his travel and all of the information about him. We should learn a lot more since we have the suspect alive.

BERMAN: And I just want to note that CNN is working to confirm the details of the identity of the suspect right now. His age, where he might be from, whether or not he did declare any affiliation with any group. These details are coming in. We want to make sure they're 100 percent solid before we report them.

Joe Giacalone, again, as we're looking at live pictures of the scene right now, Port Authority, one of the transit hubs of New York City.

HARLOW: Huge.

BERMAN: Again, 220,000 passenger trips in and out every day. Tens and tens of thousands of people. The heart and the height of rush hour this morning. You know, I'm struck by the fact that, except for the fact that this guy performed poorly as far as terrorists are concerned or would be --

HARLOW: Sure.

BERMAN: Or violence bad-doers are concerned, there could have been many more casualties.

JOSEPH GIACALONE, FORMER NYPD SERGEANT: Well, yes, I mean, you can worry about a stampede in this, but you know what, this is, like you said, Monday morning rush hour. And New Yorkers are used to getting pushed and shoved and what have you as they go into work. And you know, the other factor into this, too, it's a few weeks before the big holiday, so a lot of extra tourists coming in now, too, to make sure -- you know, to see the Christmas tree and what have you.

So there is a -- you know, a tremendous amount of people. I think that we're even, you know, underestimating the amount of people that are at the Port Authority right now when it happened. So there's a lot of things that are going to happen right now. You know, they're going to have their on-scene investigation and they're going to have their investigation going on to where he lives.

I'm just interested in where he comes from because remember the last guy who ran the people down on the West Side Highway, he was from New Jersey, too. So we're going to see if there's any type of connection between what's happening. So it's going to be -- I'm going to be looking for that.

HARLOW: Former Commissioner, back to you on this. You know, the first call I make this morning, right, as soon as this happens is that, you know, I call my husband who's with our daughter, about to get on the subway, take her to daycare. I mean, this is what so many people in New York City go through in moments like this.

We don't know what it is. There are so many outstanding questions. But the fact that this person was not stopped before this point, was not stopped before this homemade device was brought on or near New York City public transit in the heart of Manhattan, that's terrifying to many people.

SAFIR: Well, it is terrifying, but we have to get used, unfortunately, to the new normal. And the new normal is that we cannot stop and search everybody. Especially now that winter is coming, people are wearing heavy clothing. You know, the public, if they see something, they need to say

something. But you know, unfortunately, we need to be right 100 percent of the time. The terrorists only needs to be right once. So, you know, what we really are fortunate is we have the NYPD with a great intelligence apparatus and the ones that keep us up at night are people like this with the lone operators, who are self-radicalized or inspired by ISIS.

But, you know, telling somebody that you can guarantee that this will not happen again is just fantasy. But we need to go about our lives and just target these people as much as we can and find them wherever they are.

BERMAN: Joe, of course, there is no guarantee. You can't guarantee 100 percent safety, but that doesn't mean that things can't be done. So you trained officers before. You know, what do you tell officers to look for, these Port Authority officers, who will be working in this scene the coming days?

GIACALONE: Well, I mean, one of the things that they talk about is that, you know, somebody who's looking very nervous at the moment, you know, looking around. But you know what, if anybody's been a tourist in New York City, they do look nervous when they're going into subways or trying to figure out where they've got to go.

[09:10:08] This is a very unfortunate circumstances that the police are going to have to deal with. And there's no way that you're going to be able to pick somebody out of the crowd. You're not going to be able to do this. I know we have TV shows and people think that the police can actually do this. But it's impossible. And, you know, you don't profile, you're not going to be able to, you know, look for anything suspicious. Everyone's carrying a bag, everybody has something on them, knapsacks and what have you.

So this is just a nightmare if you're going to try to prevent every one of these things. And like the former commissioner said, you just can't. And unfortunately, we have to resolve ourselves to that fact and unfortunately we have to deal with it.

HARLOW: Joseph Giacalone, thank you so much. Former NYPD commissioner, Howard Safir, thank you as well.

Of course we're going to keep you posted on these developments. They're coming in very quickly. Our reporters are working their sources. Much more ahead.

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And California wildfires spreading and the weather conditions getting worse. The fires now burning an area larger than New York City and Boston combined.

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[09:15:48]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. The breaking news this morning. You're looking at live pictures again of Port Authority. This is 32nd Street and 8th Avenue in New York, a transportation hub. Tens of thousands of people come in and out every day. There was an explosion a couple of hours ago.

A man wearing some kind of explosive. It detonated. He is injured. We are getting word that there are a few other injuries now. We're keeping a close eye on that. We will have more details for you as the morning continues.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: If you think about this, Monday morning commute right at rush hour in the 7:00 a.m. Eastern hour. As you said before, 220,000 people make their way through Port Authority every day. This is a huge bus hub and a huge subway hub. Almost all of the subway lines in New York City converge through this hub.

And so, again, the reporting is that an unidentified individual, we don't know his name or where he's from, had this homemade device that went off, but mistakenly went off. You would think of this as a very key target potentially. Somehow, mistakenly, they believe, went off.

BERMAN: All right. Joining us again is Joe Giacalone, a former NYPD official. He's been with us all morning helping us understand this. We're getting accounts from witnesses who say that they heard an explosion, they saw the stampede, they were there when this all happened. But again, I think if there's one glare story here, it's this really could have been so much worse.

JOSEPH GIACALONE, FORMER NYPD SERGEANT: Yes, if you just think of the consequences of what happens when people start to panic. So, there could have been a trampling effect, could have been a lot of different things that happened. People get knocked down stairs and the like.

So, this is, you know, an unfortunate situation, but it looks like there's a bit of a silver lining here in that this bomb went off prematurely and no other additional, you know, mass casualty events. I mean, this could have been a really big incident.

HARLOW: We don't know exactly where, Joseph, it went off. Brynn, our reporter, great reporting from her sources, says somewhere near the entrance to one of the subways or on a platform. But my question to you is, you know, just for people that don't live in New York City, you don't go through any sort of detection to get on the subway or into Port Authority. You walk in the door like you walk into a shopping mall. I mean, this is nothing like the airports.

GIACALONE: No, there is basically zero security to get in and out of there. There are a lot of surveillance cameras, so I'm sure that's one thing we haven't spoken about on this incident. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of surveillance camera footage that's going to be released, but you'll see the bad inspections happening now more frequently.

Remember those things when we had them way back when? We'll have them coming up over the next couple of weeks when we have all the tourists coming in for the holiday season. I think you're going to be expecting those random checks.

BERMAN: Of course, you have to remember that people are getting on these buses that come to the Port Authority from all over the tristate area. So, if you're doing bag inspections, you have to do it in hundreds if not thousands of locations, as these buses stop simply everywhere.

Just to clear up the new information we're getting. The fire department is now saying there's a total of four injuries in these explosions. That does include the suspect. All of the injuries are not life-threatening, nonlife-threatening, including the suspect.

And joe, to that point, the fact that they do have this suspect in hand right now with non-life-threatening injuries, I imagine he is the main source of information that they're going to probe right now.

GIACALONE: Certainly, this is a home run that he's still alive. So, they'll be able to hopefully interrogate him and find out what's going on, if there's any other devices or any other plans for happening today. I'm sure they've got Penn Station near locked down, Grand Central Station. These are all similar-type locations.

So, I think you'll see the military presence there, also. But you know what? They're going to have to execute search warrants. We're not going to find out about where he lived until the police actually get there. Any social media pages that they want to gather information before they disappear off the internet. These are important aspects of this criminal investigation going forward.

HARLOW: If you're sitting at home and wondering, what do I do? Do I go to work, take my kid to child care? What is your advice at this point in time?

GIACALONE: Well, the only station right now that's closed is on the 8th Avenue side. All the other trains are coming in. I would expect delays, but like I said, this is Monday during rush hour, so you'll have delays anyway.

[09:20:10] People have to go to work, people have to go shopping, go on with their lives and do things. I know it sounds kind of crass to say that, but that's exactly what we need to do.

Because, unfortunately, this is the second one within about a month and a half. You know, it's -- it looks like there's going to be more frequency of these type of smaller events, instead of the big one we've been waiting for.

BERMAN: Yes, I mean, traffic and weather on the ones here for us. If you want to get around the west side of Manhattan, it's going to be brutally difficult for the next couple of hours, this station closed, cabs will be all full, walking is your best way to get around. Joe, standby for us, I want to go back to Port Authority right now. Our Jason Carroll has been standing by outside. And Jason, we have learned that three other people besides the attacker were injured here.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right now, John, we're waiting for a press conference. You can see, there's sort of a frantic scramble from all the media that's here, trying to get set up. Again, we're now at 42nd and 8th Avenue. They've moved us from one frozen zone to another frozen zone.

So, we're awaiting this press conference right now, about to get underway. Again (inaudible) -- going to be holding a press conference again in just a few moments.

HARLOW: All right, Jason, thank you. We're having a hard time hearing you. Obviously, we understand, there are a lot of people around and they're moving you. We are awaiting a press conference from the NYPD commissioner. We will get to that in just a moment.

I'm sorry, the control room, what did you say? All right. Our Brynn Gingras is with us as well, working her sources. Brynn, what are you learning?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what you guys are seeing on the screen there. We just learned about the other people injured. Of course, throughout the morning, we haven't heard how many people were injured. We just knew that it was the suspect and that he was taken into custody.

But now we know that three other people were injured in this incident, again, where a man tried to detonate some sort of homemade explosive device that was on himself and then, again, through those sources, we learned that either malfunctioned or didn't go off according to plan.

But like you saw, Jason, it's a little chaotic down there because you have not only all law enforcement, federal authorities, also, the FDNY, but they are trying to set up that press conference to give the most updated information.

Possibly more about the suspect, which we've been hearing little bits about, through sources. But we're still trying to confirm at this point. But certainly, we'll learn more once that press conference starts up, guys.

BERMAN: All right. Brynn Gingras, stand by. Joe Giacalone, stand by as well. Here's the situation. We're waiting on a press conference from outside Port Authority where there was that explosion this morning. Some of the questions that authorities may no doubt answer coming up.

The identity of the person who has this explosive device. Have they found any other explosive devices? Where has this investigation led them in the last two hours? Much more right after a break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:26:20]

HARLOW: All right. We are continuing to follow this breaking news out of New York City. A homemade device exploding at Port Authority, the main terminal hub in the heart of New York City, right near Times Square. All of those microphones are for Police Commissioner James O'Neil and other city authorities who are going to speak in just moments.

As we wait, let's go to our Jason Carroll who is on the scene. Jason, the headline right now, you've got four injuries, non-life- threatening, but still four injuries from this.

CARROLL: Still four injuries. And when you think about the thousands upon thousands of people that come through the Port Authority every day, I mean, obviously, the thought is things could have been much, much worse.

Again, right now NYPD has set up. They are about to hold a press conference. That's going to be taking place within the next few minutes, we are told. Right the now we're at 42nd and 8th Avenue, in front of the Port Authority.

And for folks who are unfamiliar with New York City, you can see why it could be somewhat confusing when there were initially reports that there was an explosion in Times Square, because when I look just right behind my camera here, one block away is Times Square.

The two are connected beneath the ground and that's where the explosion happened. That's where we heard from this MTA worker, who was in her booth when the explosion took place. She immediately started running.

Not only does this transportation hub serve subways and trains, but it also serves buses, as well. And when a bus had pulled into the Port Authority, one woman, a group of people were onboard this bus. Police stopped the bus and said, everyone, get off and seek shelter.

So, you can imagine how some folks felt, Poppy and John, when this explosion happened beneath the ground. Again, NYPD is here. They are giving us instructions at the press conference as about to get underway. We're going to get more information about exactly what happened -- Poppy, John.

BERMAN: You have to say, given how densely packed Port Authority is, particularly during rush hour, 9:00 a.m., it's a miracle that only four people were injured, including the attacker. It's almost impossible to imagine that only four people would be injured.

Which is why, I think, Jason, we're going to have so many questions about the nature of this explosive device, hoping we get some more details from authorities here. Was it a vest? Was it a pipe bomb? How was it constructed? Were there digital components to this device? How big was it?

You know, again, was there more than one device involved here? These are some of the questions we are waiting to get. Jason, you're inside the perimeter right now, obviously. You're where these microphones are. What's going on just outside. Are there people standing by or people watching or is it mostly shut down?

CARROLL: Well, they were. I got here by taking actually the subway. Got off on 34th Street. And when they had done is, John, they had set up frozen zones along the way. You had to get out, you had to walk from 34th Street, where they had stopped traffic, so emergency vehicles could get in and block by block, they had set up these so- called frozen zones, secure zones.

Some people were stuck in these zones, who were commuting in. Some trying to get to work. Some trying to get out. And you had to sort of negotiate your way sort of block by block, if you will, to get to where we are. At one point, they stopped and just let press through. We were at one block south of here at 41st and 8th Avenue.

And then we were moved one block closer for this press conference. A lot of people, some trying to figure out what's going on. Some trying to get to work. You know, just one block to my south, there were literally hundreds of people who were questioning -- one woman stopped me and said, can I go to work?

Should I go home? I said, miss, that's a question for the police. That's not something for me to answer. So, it is New York City. Commuters in some ways are used to dealing with security -- you know, things that happen like this in --