Friday 26 May 2017

US charges New York bomb suspect with use of weapons of mass destruction

A wounded Ahmad Khan Rahami is taken into custody after the shootout with police. Photo: AP
A wounded Ahmad Khan Rahami is taken into custody after the shootout with police. Photo: AP
Bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami in his booking photo. Photo: Reuters
The suspect is tended to by medics as he’s taken into custody on a stretcher. Photo: AP

Mica Rosenberg and Joseph Ax

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday charged the Afghan-born man arrested after weekend bombings in New York and New Jersey with four counts including use of weapons of mass destruction and bombing a place of public use.

The charges were laid out in a federal complaint that said a handwritten journal was found on the suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahami, that praised Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks and accused the US government of slaughtering Islamist fighters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Palestine.

The federal charges come after the father of Rahami, the naturalized American citizen captured on Monday in New Jersey after a shootout with police, said he had reported concerns about his son being involved with militants to the Federal Bureau of Investigations two years ago.

The FBI acknowledged it had investigated Rahami in 2014, but found no "ties to terrorism" and dropped its inquiry.

The White House said on Tuesday it appeared that the bombings were "an act of terrorism" as an investigation continued in to whether Rahami had accomplices, or if he picked up militant Islamic views during trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"The investigation is active and ongoing, and it is being investigated as an act of terror," US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in Lexington, Kentucky.

A police perimeter ioutside the First American Fried Chicken restaurant in Elizabeth, N.J. The Elizabeth establishment and the apartment above are tied to Ahmad Khan Rahami, who was arrested as a suspect in the weekend bombings in New York and New Jersey. Photo: AP
A police perimeter ioutside the First American Fried Chicken restaurant in Elizabeth, N.J. The Elizabeth establishment and the apartment above are tied to Ahmad Khan Rahami, who was arrested as a suspect in the weekend bombings in New York and New Jersey. Photo: AP
A New York Police Department (NYPD) robot retrieves an unexploded pressure cooker bomb on 27th Street, hours after an explosion nearby in New York City. Photo: Reuters
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (R) and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (2-R) look over the mangled remains of the dumpster that bore the brunt of the blast. Photo: REUTERS/Justin Lane/Pool
The scene of the explosion Photo: BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images
Police at the scene of an explosion in Manhattan's Chelsea neighbourhood in New York (AP)
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
Police work near the scene of an explosion in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, in New York, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
New York City Police Department officers arrive to keep watch near the site of an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 18, 2016. REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasi
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
An Emergency Alert appears on a mobile phone concerning a suspicious package on West 27th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, early Sunday morning, Sept. 18, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Maria Sanminiatelli)
New York City firefighters stand near the site of an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 18, 2016. REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasi
New York City firefighters stand near the site of an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 18, 2016. REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasi
A New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer stands guard near the site of an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 18, 2016. REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasi
A New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer uses a canine near the site of an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 18, 2016. REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasi
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, U.S. September 17, 2016. REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasi

Rahami, 28, was suspected in the weekend bombings, including a blast on Saturday night in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood that wounded 29 people, and another on the New Jersey shore that injured no one earlier that day.

Rahami was arrested on Monday in Linden, New Jersey, after a shootout with police that left him with multiple gunshot wounds. Rahami was listed in critical but stable condition, and police had not yet been able to interview him in depth, New York Police Department Commissioner James O'Neill said.

His father, Mohammad Rahami, briefly emerged on Tuesday from the family's restaurant in Elizabeth, New Jersey, about 20 miles (30 km) west of New York City, telling reporters, "I called the FBI two years ago."

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement that it began an assessment of the younger Rahami in 2014 based on comments his father made about his son after "a domestic dispute."

"The FBI conducted internal database reviews, interagency checks, and multiple interviews, none of which revealed ties to terrorism," the FBI said.

One US law enforcement official said the elder Rahami met twice with the FBI, first saying he was worried his son was hanging out with people who might have connections to militants, but two weeks later contending his real concern was that the son was associating with criminals.

Another law enforcement official said the father "recanted the whole story" about his son associating with terrorists.

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The comments by the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, showed Rahami had been brought to the attention of the FBI before the bombings much like others who have carried out attacks in the United States in recent years.

For example, the FBI had received tips on both the Orlando nightclub shooter who killed 49 people in June and the lead bomber in the 2013 Boston Marathon attack before they acted.

FBI officials record the spray of debris and shrapnel across the ground at the site of an explosion in the Chelsea neighbourhood of Manhattan. Photo: Rashid Umar Abbasi
FBI officials record the spray of debris and shrapnel across the ground at the site of an explosion in the Chelsea neighbourhood of Manhattan. Photo: Rashid Umar Abbasi

Tradtional garb

Rahami was arrested not far from Elizabeth, where his family lived above their storefront First American Fried Chicken restaurant.

A neighbour said Rahami had recently started dressing in more traditional clothes such as long tunics and sandals, which she said was how his father dressed.

"I always saw him outside talking on a cell phone, walking back and forth," said the neighbour, who asked not to be identified. "His brother was friendlier, you always saw him with friends. I never saw him with a group of friends."

Two US officials said Rahami had a small notebook on him when he was apprehended, which one of the officials said contained "ideological" musings.

The notebook, punctured by a bullet hole and stained with blood, contained references to killing nonbelievers and mentioned American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a leading al Qaeda propagandist who was killed in a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011, the New York Times reported, citing an unnamed law enforcement official.

Two US officials told Reuters Rahami had traveled to Afghanistan and to Quetta, Pakistan, a city where support for the Taliban is significant.

The official, and other US security sources, said Rahami underwent additional security screening upon returning from abroad but passed each time. One of the officials, who specializes in counter-terrorism, said the "secondary" screening included asking Rahami where he had gone and for what purpose.

Rahami's wife left the United States a few days before the bombings, CNN reported, citing a law enforcement source.

A previous partner of Rahami sued him for full custody of their child on Tuesday, court documents show.

"Defendant has been charged with police attempted murder and is under protective services after possible terrorist related active in NYC," Maria Mena hand-wrote on the application.

Reuters

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