Frank James, the suspect in the Brooklyn subway shooting, is escorted from an NYPD precinct in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., April 13, 2022.
Frank James, the suspect in the Brooklyn subway shooting, is escorted from an NYPD precinct in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., April 13, 2022. Reuters / STEPHEN YANG

A U.S. federal judge on Thursday entered a permanent order of detention for the man suspected of setting off smoke bombs and spraying gunfire inside a New York City subway car this week, after prosecutors said he presented a flight risk and a danger to the community.

The man, Frank James, suspected of injuring 23 people in the attack, made an initial court appearance on Thursday to face a federal charge of violently attacking a mass transit system.

James, 62, was arrested on Wednesday in lower Manhattan, capping a 30-hour manhunt for the lone suspect wanted in an assault that unnerved riders of the largest and busiest U.S. metropolitan rapid rail network and renewed calls for greater subway security.

"The defendant's criminal conduct was extraordinarily serious," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Winik said in a court filing before the suspect's make his first appearance in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.

"He fired approximately 33 rounds in cold blood at terrified passengers who had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

"At least 10 individuals were struck by the defendant's gunfire, while many more were injured in the chaos that followed his attack," he said in the filing. "Numerous passengers could have been killed."

James was taken into custody about five miles (8 km) from the scene of Tuesday's assault, which unfolded during the morning rush-hour as the Manhattan-bound N train was pulling into an underground station in Brooklyn's Sunset Park community.

Police said 10 people were shot outright, five of them hospitalized in critical but stable condition, and 13 others were injured in the stampede of terrified passengers pouring from the smoke-filled subway car onto the platform of the 36th Street station. All were expected to survive.

The gunman vanished in the pandemonium, but investigators said they established James as a suspect when a sweep of the crime scene turned up a credit card in his name and the keys to a U-Haul van that he had rented and left parked a several blocks away.

Authorities at the scene also recovered the Glock 9 mm semi-automatic handgun used in the attack, along with three extended-ammunition magazines, a torch, a hatchet, a bag of fireworks and a container of gasoline, according to police and court documents.

The next day, investigators tracked James down to Manhattan's East Village neighborhood with the help of tips from residents who recognized him from wanted photos, some of whom posted sightings on social media, police said. He was taken into custody without incident, according to officials.

Authorities have offered no possible motive for the assault. But according to an FBI affidavit filed in the case, James posted a number of YouTube videos addressing statements to New York City's mayor about homelessness and the subway system.

A YouTube account apparently belonging to James was taken down Wednesday for violating the online video platform's "community guidelines," the company said.

The New York Times and New York Post, each citing law enforcement sources, reported that James himself alerted police to his general whereabouts on Wednesday in a call he placed to a tip line from a McDonald's fast-food outlet. The reports could not be independently verified by Reuters.

A criminal complaint filed by federal prosecutors on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn charged James with a single count of committing a terrorist or other violent attack against a mass transportation system - a felony that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

James, a Bronx native with recent addresses in Philadelphia and Milwaukee, had nine prior arrests in New York and three in New Jersey, according to the New York Police Department.

The subway shooting suspect, described by eyewitnesses as dressed in construction-worker garb, is accused of setting off two smoke canisters from the rear of the subway car moments before opening fire on fellow passengers.

In addition to items found at the subway station, searches of James' apartment and a storage locker in Philadelphia uncovered more handgun and rifle magazines, ammunition, a Taser and a pistol barrel attachment for a silencer, the FBI said.