It was an odd side story to the bombing in New York City last month: Two passers-by spotted a bag on West 27th Street in Chelsea, opened it, removed the pressure cooker inside and took the bag with them. In doing so, the authorities have said, they may have defused a second bomb.
The two men simply liked the bag they happened upon, according to officials for EgyptAir, where the men, who were visiting New York, worked as in-flight security guards.
“You know, we see things left on the street in New York all the time,” one of the officials said. “Stuff no one wants. It’s normal to take them.”
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to publicly discuss the matter.
Indeed, there is little unusual here about what the men, identified as Hassan Ali and Abou Bakr Radwan by the airline officials, did with the bag. New Yorkers have long scooped up finds off the pavement.
The streets have given Wendy Blake a Persian lamb jacket, a cat-scratching post and, recently, a “perfectly good” salad bowl from Ikea.
“Free stuff, there is something really compelling about it,” said Blake, a writer who lived and hunted for free goods in Brooklyn for 30 years before moving upstate. “Maybe because the city is so expensive.”
The bag containing the pressure cooker may have been a Louis Vuitton knockoff, officials at the FBI have said.
“I get it,” Blake said.
For legions of New Yorkers, items on the curb — furniture, paintings, appliances and bags — have long seemed fair game. Yet those items should be left to trash carters like the Sanitation Department, according to the city’s administrative code.
This, plus the dicey situation into which the two EgyptAir employees unwittingly stepped, should make people think twice about taking trash, said New York City Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who is chairman of the committee on sanitation and solid waste management.
“We might have gotten lucky here, as it seems that the actions could have assisted in disarming the bomb,” Reynoso said on Sunday. “But this just further strengthens the case not to take anything off the sidewalk.”
Moonmoon Parmar, an environmental planner from Queens, has left things outside in the past, hoping that someone would take them. She still would, she said: When she spotted a woman walking off with her discarded black handbag, she was pleased.
“It was better than it going in the trash,” she said.
The practice is pervasive, said Susan Strasser, the author of Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash.
“It’s one of the ways that stuff moves through urban spaces, that people discard things and other people pick them up, whether it’s a can that someone might collect, or whether it’s something large — like a suitcase sitting there abandoned,” she said.
Before the two men found the bag on West 27th Street, a bomb that was placed under a dumpster on West 23rd Street exploded and injured 31 people.
Ahmad Khan Rahami was arrested in Linden, New Jersey, two days later and charged with multiple crimes, including using weapons of mass destruction.
Rahami has also been linked to an explosion in Seaside Park, New Jersey, and to a backpack containing pipe bombs found at a train station in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
“If people want to pick up items that are clearly discarded in public, that is up to them to decide,” Sergeant Jessica McRorie, a spokeswoman for the New York Police Department, said in an e-mail, adding that police should be summoned if anything seems suspicious.
New Yorkers said they hunted for treasure in the trash for reasons ranging from economic to just plain fun.
Jeremy Bastien, a maintenance worker who lives in Brooklyn, enjoys being able to repair computer parts other people throw away.
Julia Berick, who works in publishing and lives in the East Village in Manhattan, said it just seemed an inevitable part of urban life.
“In an anonymous city, it seems like everything could be up for grabs,” she said.
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