NEW YORK (AP) — The man arrested Wednesday in the shooting of 10 people on a Brooklyn subway was charged with a federal terrorism offense, a day after the attack on a crowded rush-hour train.
The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Breon Peace, announced the charge against Frank R. James, 62, at an afternoon press conference. James was taken into custody in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood shortly beforehand.
Law enforcement located James after police received a tip about his whereabouts.
James is accused in the Tuesday attack in which five people were in critical condition after the morning shooting, but all 10 gunshot victims were expected to survive. The charge against him carries a sentence of up to life in prison and pertains to terrorist or other violent attacks against mass transit systems. There is no indication that James had ties to terror organizations — international or otherwise — and the motive remains unclear, Peace said.
Police had initially said Tuesday that James was being sought for questioning because he had rented a van possibly connected to the attack, but weren’t sure whether he was responsible for the shooting.
In recent months, James had railed in online videos about racism and violence in the U.S. and about his experiences with mental health care in New York City. In some videos, he criticized Adams’ policies on mental health and subway safety.
The gunman set off smoke grenades in a crowded subway car and then fired at least 33 shots with a 9 mm handgun, police said. At least a dozen others who escaped gunshot wounds were treated for smoke inhalation and other injuries.
The shooter escaped in the chaos, but left behind numerous clues, including the gun, ammunition magazines, a hatchet, smoke grenades, gasoline and the key to a U-Haul van.
That key led investigators to James, a New York City-area native who had more recent addresses in Philadelphia and Wisconsin.
Federal investigators determined the gun used in the shooting was purchased by James at a pawn shop — a licensed firearms dealer — in the Columbus, Ohio, area in 2011.
The van was found, unoccupied, near a station where investigators determined the gunman had entered the subway system. No explosives or firearms were found in the van, a law enforcement official who wasn’t authorized to comment on the investigation and did so on the condition of anonymity told The Associated Press. Police did find other items, including pillows, suggesting he may have been sleeping or planned to sleep in the van, the official said.
Investigators believe James drove up from Philadelphia on Monday and have reviewed surveillance video showing a man matching his physical description coming out of the van early Tuesday morning, the official said. Other video shows James entering a subway station in Brooklyn with a large bag, the official said.
In addition to analyzing financial and telephone records connected to James, investigators were reviewing hours of rambling, profanity-filled videos James posted on YouTube and other social media platforms as they tried to discern a motive.
In one video, posted a day before the attack, James, who is Black, criticizes crime against Black people and says drastic action is needed.
“You got kids going in here now taking machine guns and mowing down innocent people,” James says. “It’s not going to get better until we make it better,” he said, adding that he thought things would only change if certain people were “stomped, kicked and tortured” out of their “comfort zone.”
In another video he says, “this nation was born in violence, it’s kept alive by violence or the threat thereof and it’s going to die a violent death. There’s nothing going to stop that.”
His posts are replete with violent language and bigoted comments, some against Black people.
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell called the posts “concerning” and officials tightened security for Adams, who was already isolating following a positive COVID-19 test Sunday.
Several of James’ videos mention New York’s subways. A Feb. 20 video says the mayor and governor’s plan to address homelessness and safety in the subway system “is doomed for failure” and refers to himself as a “victim” of the city’s mental health programs. A Jan. 25 video criticizes Adams’ plan to end gun violence.
The Brooklyn subway station where passengers fled the smoke-filled train in the attack was open as usual Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after the violence.
Commuter Jude Jacques, who takes the D train to his job as a fire safety director some two blocks from the shooting scene, said he prays every morning but had a special request on Wednesday.
“I said, ‘God, everything is in your hands,’” Jacques said. “I was antsy, and you can imagine why. Everybody is scared because it just happened.”