Device explodes in New Jersey, 5 people questioned in New York bombing investigation

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ELIZABETH, N.J. — A backpack that appeared to contain pipe bombs exploded early Monday as a police robot examined it near a New Jersey transit station.

Mayor Chris Bollwage told reporters the bomb squad robot was "cutting into the device when it exploded" in Elizabeth, N.J. A spokesman for Bollwage had earlier described the blast as a controlled detonation.

Photos of the explosion in Manhattan:

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Explosion in Manhattan and investigation
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Explosion in Manhattan and investigation
Fire fighters and other first responders stand near an alleged explosion on West 23rd Street on September 17, 2016, in New York. An explosion in New York's upscale and bustling Chelsea neighborhood injured at least 25 people, none of them in a life-threatening condition, late Saturday, the fire department said. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the NYPD, FBI, ATF and other agencies invesitgate the the scene, following a late night explosion on West 23rd Street September, 18, 2016 in New York. An explosion rocked one of the most fashionable neighborhoods of New York on September 17 night, injuring 29 people, one seriously, a week after America's financial capital marked the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Mayor Bill de Blasio indicated the blast was not accidental, even if there was no known link to terrorism. The blast occurred in Chelsea -- an area packed with bars, restaurants and luxury apartment blocks -- at a typically bustling time of the weekend. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the NYPD, FBI, ATF and other agencies invesitgate the the scene, following a late night explosion on West 23rd Street September, 18, 2016 in New York. An explosion rocked one of the most fashionable neighborhoods of New York on September 17 night, injuring 29 people, one seriously, a week after America's financial capital marked the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Mayor Bill de Blasio indicated the blast was not accidental, even if there was no known link to terrorism. The blast occurred in Chelsea -- an area packed with bars, restaurants and luxury apartment blocks -- at a typically bustling time of the weekend. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Evidence markers are seen on the street around officials from the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) near the site of an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 18, 2016. REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo(R)visits the scene of an explosion on West 23rd Street September, 18, 2016 in New York. An explosion rocked one of the most fashionable neighborhoods of New York on September 17 night, injuring 29 people, one seriously, a week after America's financial capital marked the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Mayor Bill de Blasio indicated the blast was not accidental, even if there was no known link to terrorism. The blast occurred in Chelsea -- an area packed with bars, restaurants and luxury apartment blocks -- at a typically bustling time of the weekend. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) officers stand near the site of an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 18, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Police block a road after an explosion in New York on September 17, 2016. An explosion in New York's Chelsea neighborhood injured multiple people Saturday night, police said. / AFP / William EDWARDS (Photo credit should read WILLIAM EDWARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Explosion on 23rd and 6th. These two cars had back windows blown out while driving. 8 year old in back seat injured. https://t.co/aKDra2LaIC
Apartment is being blocked off - #Explosion #Chelsea #NewYork https://t.co/B14pWOFpZ0
#Explosion outside our apartment at 23rd and 6th in #newyork. Terrified. Hoping everyone is okay. https://t.co/i3q4cG7aWT
23rd and 6th Ave NYC explosion. Emergency responded within seconds https://t.co/3ZOYQJ2A5J
The situation at 23rd and 6th in NYC. Explosion happened on 23rd, subway station blocked off. https://t.co/NPNjXqIerH
Bomb squad just arrived... Block has been cordoned off between 6th and 7th on 23rd st. https://t.co/vnZ4TxciGj
Two woman look on as police block a road after an explosion in New York on September 17, 2016. An explosion in New York's Chelsea neighborhood injured multiple people Saturday night, police said. / AFP / William EDWARDS (Photo credit should read WILLIAM EDWARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
New York City firefighters stand near the site of an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 17, 2016. REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasi
New York City firefighters stand near the site of an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York September 17, 2016. REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
New York City police and firefighters stand near the site of an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 17, 2016. REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasi
People look on as the police, fire department and other first responders work near an alleged explosion on West 23rd Street on September 17, 2016, in New York. An explosion in New York's upscale and bustling Chelsea neighborhood injured at least 25 people, none of them in a life-threatening condition, late Saturday, the fire department said. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton talks to reporters about the explosion in Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, as she arrives to at the Westchester County airport in White Plains, U.S., September 17, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: Security members take security measures at Grand Central Station after the explosion in Chelsea neighbourhood in Manhattan, New York, USA on September 18, 2016. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: Security members take security measures at site after the explosion in Chelsea neighbourhood in Manhattan, New York, USA on September 18, 2016. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Members of the NYPD, FBI, ATF and other agencies invesitgate the the scene, following a late night explosion on West 23rd Street September, 18, 2016 in New York. An explosion rocked one of the most fashionable neighborhoods of New York on September 17 night, injuring 29 people, one seriously, a week after America's financial capital marked the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Mayor Bill de Blasio indicated the blast was not accidental, even if there was no known link to terrorism. The blast occurred in Chelsea -- an area packed with bars, restaurants and luxury apartment blocks -- at a typically bustling time of the weekend. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: A mangled dumpster sits on the sidewalk at the site of an explosion that occurred on Saturday night on September 18, 2016 in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. An explosion in a construction dumpster that injured 29 people is being labeled an 'intentional act'. A second device, a pressure cooker, was found four blocks away that an early investigation found was likely also a bomb. (Photo by Justin Lane-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (R) and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (L) talk to area residents while touring the site of an explosion that occurred on Saturday night on September 18, 2016 in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. An explosion in a construction dumpster that injured 29 people is being labeled an 'intentional act'. A second device, a pressure cooker, was found four blocks away that an early investigation found was likely also a bomb. (Photo by Justin Lane-Pool/Getty Images)
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The blast occurred shortly before 1 a.m. ET Monday. It was the second in New Jersey since Saturday morning and followed a bombing Saturday night injured 29 people in Manhattan.

Several law enforcement officials told NBC News that they are concerned that an active terrorism cell with multiple players could be at work in the New York-New Jersey area.

Authorities stopped a "vehicle of interest" in the New York blast at about 8:45 p.m. ET Sunday near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York, the FBI said. Five people were being questioned by the FBI early Monday, officials said.

None of the five people had been charged, and the investigation was ongoing, authorities told NBC News.

Latest developments: Device explodes in Elizabeth, N.J.

  • Surveillance video may show the same man at both New York locations where devices were found
  • Governor orders 1,000 state troopers and National Guard soldiers to New York City
  • Authorities investigating 911 call claiming responsibility
  • Officials attempting to identify suspects from surveillance video
  • Both NYC "bomb" and explosive device in New Jersey used flip-phones

Multiple senior law enforcement officials told NBC News that the suspicious device discovered Sunday night in Elizabeth looked similar in appearance to the one that exploded Saturday morning in Seaside Park, N.J.

The latest package was a backpack, and it was found by two men in a garbage can about 300 feet from the front door of a crowded pub in Elizabeth, according to Bollwage. When they saw wires and pipes, they dropped it and immediately went to police headquarters, he said.

"We do not believe those two are involved," the mayor said. "We believe they did the right thing."

Bollwage said he was "extremely concerned for the residents of the community" if "someone could just go and drop a backpack into a garbage can that has multiple explosives in it."

He added: "Based on the loudness, I think people could have been severely hurt or injured if they had been in the vicinity."

New Jersey Transit suspended services between Newark Airport and the Elizabeth station, and Amtrak suspended service along parts of the Northeast Corridor.

The explosion Saturday night injured 29 people in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. Less than three hours later, a "possible secondary device" was found a few blocks away on 27th Street while officers were combing the area.

The explosion sent a dumpster flying more than 150 feet down the sidewalk and shattered windows more than a block away, a senior law enforcement official said.

Investigators are analyzing possible similarities between the two devices found in Manhattan and the one that detonated in Seaside Park — including the fact that all three devices apparently contained old-style mobile flip phones — according to officials familiar with the probe.

The New York explosion was determined to have been an "intentional act," authorities said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it was clearly "an act of terrorism," although it hadn't been linked to an international terrorist group.

"A bomb going off is generically a terrorist activity," said Cuomo, who ordered 1,000 New York State Police and National Guard members deployed across the city.

Security had already been tightened in the city for the U.N. General Assembly, but the presence of officers throughout New York City after the blast will be "bigger than ever," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

After viewing the extensive destruction, Cuomo said it was "fortunate" that no deaths occurred.

"When you see the damage, it's amazing that no one was killed, to tell you the truth. We're lucky that only 29 were injured," Cuomo said Sunday on MSNBC.

RELATED: President Obama addresses the nation after the explosions

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