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BOMB SUSPECT PLOTTED EXTORTION, N.Y. OFFICIALS SAY

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The unemployed computer expert accused of making the firebomb that literally exploded in his face on a crowded subway train on Wednesday was plotting to set off a series of firebombs in a bizarre extortion scheme to hold New York City's subways and their 3.5 million daily riders ransom, police officials said Thursday.

The critically burned suspect, Edward J. Leary, 49, was arrested in his hospital bed around 2 a.m. - an hour after officers searching his house in Scotch Plains, N.J., found a half-dozen pages of angry handwritten notes referring to the extortion plan as well as bomb-making instructions and glass jars, nine-volt batteries and kitchen timers identical to those used to build the firebomb."There were passages that describe placing bombs on the subway and then contacting the authorities and the press with demands," said one official, who, like others involved in the case, spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Other officials said the notes contained sketches of bombs, detonating devices, plans for placing bombs on trains and even lines of people being riddled with bullets.

Police officials also believe that the firebomb that exploded on the southbound No. 4 train on Wednesday afternoon, injuring more than 40 people, was actually Leary's second bomb, coming less than a week after a similar device caused a fire on a subway train passing through Harlem.

Officials say that Leary was apparently on his way to plant the second firebomb when it ignited accidentally.

Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said the materials found in Leary's home were "consistent with both devices."

The plan, the police theorize, was for Leary to carry the firebombs onto the subway looking like packages - Wednesday's was in a paper shopping bag that, some riders said later, reeked of gasoline. He would then set the timer and get off the train, leaving the device to go off later, the police said.

"We are comfortable that this was a part of a scheme to extort money," Bratton said at a City Hall news conference. "It would appear that the subway system, the Transit Authority, may have been the intended recipient."

Leary was charged with 45 counts of first-degree assault, one for each injured passenger. District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau said the charges would ensure that if convicted, the suspect would spend "the rest of his life in state prison." Other charges are possible, he added.

Leary, who suffered burns over about 40 percent of his body, was among 16 people who remained hospitalized Thursday because of the explosion. Leary was being treated at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.