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‘Intentional’ Explosion Shakes the City of New York, 29 injured | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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New York City firefighters stand near the site of an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 17, 2016. REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasi

An explosion took place in the Chelsea district of Manhattan on Saturday night, injuring at least 29 people in what was labeled by authorities as a criminal act although investigations so far showed no evidence of a “terror connection”.

Officials ruled out a gas leak as the cause of the blast, but stopped short of calling it a bombing and declined to specify precisely what they believed was behind the explosion.

“Pictures on my wall fell, the window curtain came flying as if there was a big gush of wind,” said Neha Jain, 24, who lives in the neighborhood.

“Then we could smell smoke. We went downstairs to see what happened, and firemen immediately told us to go back,” she added.

Police said a sweep of the neighborhood following the blast had turned up a possible “secondary device” four blocks away consisting of a pressure cooker with wires attached to it and connected to a cell phone.

Nearby residents were advised to avoid staying near windows facing the street as a precaution, and the item was later safely moved to a police firing range for further examination, officer Christopher Pisano said.

Pressure cookers packed with explosives and detonated with timing devices were used by two Massachusetts brothers in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people and wounded more than 260.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said there is no evidence at this point of a terror connection, and added that there is no specific and credible threat against New York City at this point in time from any terror organization.

The mayor also added investigators did not believe there was any link to a pipe bomb that exploded earlier on Saturday in the New Jersey beach town of Seaside Park. No injuries were reported in that blast, from a device planted in a plastic trash can along the route of a charity foot race.

But a U.S. official said that a Joint Terrorism Task Force, an interagency group of federal, state and local officials, was called to investigate the Chelsea blast, suggesting authorities have not ruled out the possibility of a terror connection.

A joint task force also took the lead in investigating the New Jersey incident.

New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said 29 people were hurt in the blast, and 24 of them had been taken to hospitals, including one he described as seriously injured. The rest suffered various cuts, scrapes and other minor injuries, Nigro said.