A man critically injured by a firebomb that shot flames through a crowded subway car was arrested in his hospital bed Thursday and charged with attempted murder and assault. Officials said extortion may have been the motive.

Edward J. Leary, a 49-year-old unemployed computer operator from Scotch Plains, N.J., was charged with 45 counts. The bomb went off in his hands, and more bombmaking materials were found in his home, Police Commissioner William Brat-ton said.Leary was under police guard at Cornell Medical Center, where he was in critical condition with burns to his face, knuckles and legs. He was one of 45 people injured, four critically.

He became a suspect when he left the scene of the blast Wednesday in lower Manhattan. He was found about two miles away in the borough of Brooklyn, in pain and with his pants scorched and in tatters.

Leary planned to use the firebomb in an extortion plot aimed against the Transit Authority, Bratton said.

"Significant evidence," including bomb-making materials recovered at Leary's New Jersey home, led to that conclusion, Bratton said.

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While he stressed the investigation was preliminary, Bratton said: "We are comfortable that this is part of a scheme to extort money. It appears that the subway system, the Transit Authority, may have been the intended recipient."

Detectives questioned Leary overnight, and state and federal investigators along with New York City officers searched Leary's home in New Jersey and another residence in Brooklyn.

Police said they were investigating whether there was any link between the explosion and another blast that injured two teenagers Friday on a subway line in Harlem.

The explosion of the crude firebomb sent holiday shoppers into hysterics, inspired acts of heroism by passengers and triggered an emergency response that tied up downtown streets for hours.

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