Millions of New York cellphones blasted with emergency manhunt alert

Millions of New Yorker's cellphones blasted an emergency manhunt alert before the suspected bomber was captured; it was the first time the alert system had been used in this way.

alarm ambulance emergency red
Credit: Pixabay

It is certainly disconcerting when your cellphone blares out a red alert warning; in my area the emergency sound is usually associated with imminent danger due to a tornado. The Wireless Emergency Alert system sends Amber alerts as well as extreme weather warnings, but on Monday morning – for the first time – WEA sent a “Wanted” poster emergency alert to millions of New Yorkers, asking for help in the manhunt for the Manhattan and New Jersey bombing suspect.

The emergency cellphone alert read:

WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-yr-old male. See media for pic. Call 9-1-1 if seen.

After the mass alert went out, people took to Twitter to express their surprise over the blaring alert for a man suspected of a crime.

Three hours later, Rahami was reportedly captured.

The New York Times reported the mass alert coincided with Mayor Bill de Blasio announcing the name of the suspect on CNN as well as sharing a photo released in an FBI wanted poster.

A law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Times they had “conclusive evidence that Mr. Rahami was connected not just to the Manhattan explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood, but also to a bombing that took place earlier on Saturday on the Jersey Shore.”

Rahami was captured after a shootout in Linden, New Jersey, with police. He was shot and seen being loaded into an ambulance; two officers were also reportedly injured in the shootout.

CNN reported law enforcement first identified Rahami “through a fingerprint,” but the “cellphone connected to the pressure cooker also provided some clues.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he “wouldn’t be surprised if we found a foreign connection to the act.”

The FBI said Rahami was born in Afghanistan, but is a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Before Rahami’s name was released, police found bombs near a train station in Elizabeth; some were pipe bombs. One of the devices exploded as the bomb squad attempted to disarm it with a pair of robots supplied by the FBI. The train station is a half-mile from Rahami’s residence and police believe he is connected to the bombs.

The FCC did not send the mass WEA alert. The agency said, “WEA alert originators include other federal agencies (such as the National Weather Service) and state and local government authorities. Alerts from authenticated public safety officials are sent through FEMA's IPAWS system to participating wireless carriers.”

Over 100 wireless carriers participate in the emergency alert system, CBS reported. An alert went out on Saturday night to people geographically located near Chelsea, warning them to stay back from windows as police removed the exploded device from 27th Street. 29 people were injured after the blast on 23rd Street.

It is unclear which agency decided to blast a manhunt warning to millions of phones. A spokesman for the New York State Police told the Times that the decision to release the electronic wanted poster “came from authorities in New York City.”

Business Insider's Pamela Engel likened the alert to “something out of a dystopian movie.”

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