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Police intensify manhunt for New York subway shooter

Nervous New York commuters crowded on to the subway Wednesday morning, as police on the streets above intensified their hunt for a fugitive gunman who shot 10 people in a train car the day before.

New York mayor Eric Adams called on residents to be “vigilant” but said there was no evidence the shooter had an accomplice, adding: “It appears he was acting alone.”

Commuter Laura Swalm said she was “more alert” after the shooting. “Definitely looking around. And making sure, you know, it feels a little safe,” the 49-year-old from New Jersey told AFP.

Others were more defiant. “No one is going to drive me away from the subway. The subway is in my DNA,” said 56-year-old Dennis Sughrue.

Tuesday’s incident in Brooklyn — in which no one was killed — was not being investigated as an act of terrorism, and none of the injuries were considered life threatening.

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Police have identified 62-year-old Frank James as a suspect in the attack, which also wounded 13 others as they scrambled to get out of the station or suffered smoke inhalation.

James had posted several videos on YouTube of himself delivering long, sometimes aggressive political tirades. He also criticized mayor Adams. US media reported that his credit card and keys to a van he had rented were found at the scene.

AFP| The man identified by new York police as Frank James, a "person of interest" in the investigation of a rush-hour shooting at a subway station in the Brooklyn borough of New York on April 12, 2022
AFP| The man identified by new York police as Frank James, a “person of interest” in the investigation of a rush-hour shooting at a subway station in the Brooklyn borough of New York on April 12, 2022

Adams, speaking on NBC’s Today show, said police had stepped up his security “out of an overabundance of caution” and that they were taking “the necessary steps” until the gunman was apprehended.

“You have a person that carried out a very sick action to harm innocent people in our system,” he said.

– ‘Shot in the back of knee’ –

The suspected gunman put on a gas mask just as the train was arriving at the station, then opened two smoke canisters and began shooting, police said.

“All you see is like a smoke, black smoke bomb going off, and then … people bum rushing to the back,” one of the gunshot victims, Hourari Benkada, told CNN, referring to a charge by passengers towards the door at the end of the car.

Benkada, speaking from his hospital bed, said he had boarded the first car at 59th Street and sat next to the gunman — but with his headphones on he did not notice anything until smoke began filling the car.

He said he did not understand that there were shots at first, and that he was trying to comfort a pregnant woman next to him.

“I got pushed and that’s when I got shot in the back of my knee,” he said.

NYPD chief James Essig said the gunman had fired 33 shots. Police later recovered a Glock 17 nine-millimeter handgun, three additional ammunition magazines and a hatchet from the scene.

Benkada said the shooting lasted for perhaps a minute, and that he heard about 10 shots.

The bullet went through the back of his knee and out the side, leaving a hole “the size of a quarter,” he said. “I lost so much blood.”

Shootings in New York have risen this year, and the uptick in violent gun crime has been a central focus for Adams since he took office in January. Through April 3, shooting incidents rose to 296 from 260 during the same period last year, according to police statistics.

Lax gun laws and a constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms have repeatedly stymied attempts to clamp down on the number of weapons in circulation in the United States, despite a majority of Americans backing greater controls. AFP