Device explodes near New Jersey station as robot tries to disarm it

September 19, 2016 3:58 AM EDT

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By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) - An explosive device left near a train station in Elizabeth, New Jersey, blew up early on Monday when a bomb squad robot cut a wire on the mechanism, one of as many as five potential bombs found at the site, officials said.

No one was injured in the blast that followed a series of attacks in the United States over the weekend, including a Saturday night bombing that hurt 29 people in Manhattan.

The device in Elizabeth, a city south of Newark, had been left in a backpack placed in a trash can near a train station and a bar, Mayor Christian Bollwage told reporters.

As many as five potential explosive devices tumbled out of the backpack when it was emptied, Bollwage said. After cordoning off the area, a bomb squad used a robot to cut a wire to try to disable the device, but inadvertently set off an explosion, he said.

"I can imagine that if all five of them went off at the same time, that the loss of life could have been enormous if there was an event going on,” Bollwage said.

FOUND BY SCAVENGERS

Bomb technicians from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Union County and New Jersey were involved in the operation that resulted in the detonation of the object, one of multiple explosive devices at the site, the FBI confirmed on Twitter.

Bollwage said it was unclear whether Elizabeth, a city with a population of nearly 130,000 people that is less than 15 miles (24 km) southwest of Manhattan, was targeted or if the backpack might have been discarded to elude investigators.

Authorities early on Monday were working to remove the other devices found in the backpack, Bollwage said.

Late on Saturday, a powerful explosion rocked Manhattan's popular Chelsea neighborhood when a pressure-cooker bomb packed with shrapnel detonated. A similar unexploded device was found a few blocks away later that night.

The Chelsea blast followed a pipe bomb explosion on Saturday morning along the route of a running race in the New Jersey beach town of Seaside Park. No one was injured in that blast.

The backpack in Elizabeth was discovered on Sunday evening by two men scavenging trash who reported the package to police after seeing "wires and a pipe," Bollwage said.

Authorities have not indicated whether their investigation has revealed any link between the devices found in Elizabeth and the explosions in Manhattan or Seaside Park.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Andrew Heavens)



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