Federal authorities on Thursday charged a West Philadelphia man with attempting to blow up an ATM, one in a rash of similar crimes across the city amid unrest that erupted earlier this month over the death of George Floyd.
Prosecutors said David Elmakayes, 24, used dangerous homemade explosives — known as “quarter” or “half sticks of dynamite” — in his attempt on June 3 to crack open the ATM near Vega’s Lounge on the 200 block of East Westmoreland Street in Kensington.
The incident occurred on the same day that Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the arrest of a Frankford man who allegedly sold the same type of homemade explosives over Instagram, along with instructions to use them to attack ATMs and steal the money inside.
Police and firefighters have responded to more than 130 reports of explosions in the last several weeks. They estimate at least 50 have been related to ATM thefts — and in one case led to the death of a man who was part of a group that tried three times to blow up an ATM in North Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said investigators believe the rash of ATM bombings to be “organized” and “coordinated.” The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is leading the ongoing investigation.
ATF agents tracked down Elmakayes after securing surveillance video of him planting the devices on the ATM just before midnight and then leaving the scene when his efforts failed, they said in a complaint filed for Elmakayes’ arrest.
Minutes after the explosion, about a block and a half from the crime scene, Elmakayes allegedly struck up a conversation with security guards outside a business near A Street and Allegheny Avenue, the complaint says.
They asked to search Elmakayes and he agreed, handing over his backpack, in which the guards found two undetonated explosive devices along with a .32-caliber pistol. They found another stick of homemade dynamite in his back pocket, prosecutors said.
It was not immediately clear whether Elmakayes had retained an attorney. He was on probation at the time of the incident for felony assault and drug crimes, making it illegal for him to have firearms or other weapons.