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New York City’s explosion investigation spotlights the blurry line between violence and terrorism

Reuters/Rashid Umar Abbasi
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials mark the ground near the site of an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, U.S. September…
By Amy X. Wang
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

An explosion rocked the lower Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea on the night of Sept. 17. In a press conference shortly afterward, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio stressed there was “no specific and credible threat against New York City at this point in time from any terror organization”—though he noted the incident is being treated as an “intentional act.”

Later that night, authorities found what appeared to be a homemade bomb at a second location nearby, and since then, more than 1,000 state police officers and National Guard troops have also been sent to patrol airports, subway stations, and bus terminals around the city as a precautionary measure.

So was the Chelsea explosion an act of terrorism or not?

Speaking to reporters Sunday morning (Sept. 18), New York governor Andrew Cuomo said: “It depends on your definition of terrorism. A bomb exploding in New York is obviously an act of terrorism, but it’s not linked to international terrorism.” Cuomo, echoing de Blasio’s remarks, added there is “no evidence” at this time that the bombing was carried out by an organized terrorist group.

Such statements haven’t stopped others from making assumptions—and drastic ones at that. Social media buzzed last night with theories suggesting involvement from the Islamic State, and presidential candidate Donald Trump was quick to publicly hint at a terror connection. “We better get very, very tough. It’s a terrible thing that’s going on in our world, in our country, and we are going to get tough and smart and vigilant,” he told a crowd during a rally in Colorado. (Trump has since changed his tone to one of sympathy.)

Though all 29 people who were injured in Saturday’s blast have been released from hospitals, unanswered questions abound, and it’s those gaping uncertainties that leave so much room for speculation. The world has gone through the same dilemma again and again, with attacks on London’s transit system, bombings at the Boston Marathon, and more: When is it “terrorism” and when not? New York’s hesitance to give the Chelsea explosion an official label points to just how murky, not to mention disappointingly prevalent, such events have become.

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