In a first, authorities in the US used a cellphone alert to ask millions of New Yorkers to help nab a 28-year-old naturalised American citizen of Afghan descent wanted for the weekend bombings in Manhattan and New Jersey.
The nation’s Wireless Emergency Alerts system was deployed, believed for the first time ever to issue an alert relating to a terror investigation, very different from the usual weather or abducted children advisory.
Cellphones blared with the cacophonous tone of an emergency alert yesterday at around 8 AM and its content caught New Yorkers by surprise.
The alert, received by millions on their phones nearly at the same time, was an electronic “wanted poster” which read “WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-yr-old male. See media for pic. Call 9-1-1 if seen”.
The electronic wanted alert meant the citizens in homes, subways, sidewalks and offices across New York were now part of a massive drive to nab the person wanted for placing bombs, including a pressure cooker that did not detonate, on the busy and crowded streets of Manhattan on aSaturday evening.
Rahami was captured just hours after the alert went out, taken into custody following a shootout with police in Linden, New Jersey.
Alerts are usually sent across phone networks warning city residents about extreme weather conditions such as tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes and typhoons, the ‘AMBER Alerts’ asking for public help in most serious child-abduction cases and alerts by the President during a national emergency.
WEA messages include a special tone and vibration, both repeated twice. Just before the alert, the FBI, New York Police Department and other law enforcement agencies had issued a nation-wide alert asking for help in locating Rahami.
“Rahami is wanted for questioning in connection with an explosion that occurred on September 17 at approximately 8:30 PM in the vicinity of 135 West 23rd Street, New York.
“Rahami is a 28-year-old United States citizen of Afghan descent born on January 23, 1988, in Afghanistan. His last known address was in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He is about 5′ 6″ tall and weighs approximately 200 pounds (90 kg). Rahami has brown hair, brown eyes, and brown facial hair,” the information released across social media said.
A spokesman for the State Police was quoted as saying in the New York Times that the decision to release the message came from the authorities in New York City.
The daily said in New York City, the alerts have been used eight times since 2012: three times during Hurricane Sandy, once to alert a travel ban during a 2015 winter storm and twice during the Chelsea bombing.