Everything we know about New York bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami
US authorities have charged 28-year-old Ahmad Khan Rahami in connection with a bombing that injured 29 people on Saturday in Manhattan and two other incidents involving explosives in New Jersey. Rahami, a US citizen who was born in Afghanistan, also faces five counts of attempted murder of police officers for the shootout that led to his arrest on Monday.
Here’s everything we know — and don’t know — so far about Rahami and the bombings:
Why did he do it?
Nobody is sure yet. Rahami’s family had a long-running dispute with the city of Elizabeth, New Jersey, a city about 20 miles outside of Manhattan, where they live and owned First American Fried Chicken. Rahami’s father sued the city, accusing police of a racially-motivated “campaign of harassment and intimidation” to force the business to close earlier. The lawsuit accused a neighbor, who frequently complained about noise and the late-night clientele, of saying, “Muslims make too much trouble in this country.” It’s unclear whether the lawsuit and tensions over the restaurant, where Rahami was a fixture, were a factor in the attacks.
Rahami, who attended high school and community college in New Jersey, traveled to Pakistan and his family’s homeland in Afghanistan several times starting in 2011. Most recently, he spent more than a year in Quetta, Pakistan, a city on the Afghan border with a strong Taliban presence, returning in 2014. People who knew him from the family’s restaurant in New Jersey told the New York Times he was “a completely different person,” after he returned. He grew out his beard and began wearing a traditional Afghan clothing. The FBI is still investigating whether he was inspired by or taking orders from a terrorist organization such as the Islamic State.
CNN has cited unnamed US law enforcement officials as saying Rahami kept a notebookthat mentioned Anwar al-Awlaki, a prominent US-born Muslim cleric who supported al-Qaeda and was killed in a US drone strike in 2011. The notebook also reportedly contained references to the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, who used a pressure cooker bomb similar to the one he allegedly planted.
Where did he learn to make the bombs?
A senior law enforcement official who spoke with the New York Times said there’s no evidence yet that he had received military or bomb-making training abroad.
According to law enforcement sources cited by CNN, Rahami was questioned by US authorities after each of his trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but they had no reason to suspect that he was involved in terrorism. He was also interviewed by officials “for immigration purposes,” according to the Associated Press, but he wasn’t on any watch lists.
The bombs he allegedly made were relatively sophisticated. They used flip-style cellphones as a timing mechanism — the phones helped link the bombs in Manhattan to the ones found in New Jersey — with Christmas lights to trigger the blasts. The pressure cookers left in Manhattan were filled with shrapnel and HMTD, according to the Times, an explosive that can be made with readily a few readily available chemicals. Some of the bombs also reportedly used Tannerite, an explosive powder available at many sporting goods stores for use at shooting ranges.
“Where did he really go and what did he do overseas that a kid who lived a normal New Jersey life came back as a sophisticated bomb maker and terrorist?” one unnamed official law enforcement official told the Times.
As some media outlets have already noted, instructions for making pressure cookers bombs are easily found online, and al-Qaeda’s online magazine Inspire infamously included an article titled, “Make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom.”
The investigation is still ongoing, but right now it still appears that Rahami acted alone.
How did he choose his targets?
It’s still a mystery.
The bomb that did the most damage was placed under a dumpster in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, near a home for the blind. A second bomb was left on the sidewalk four blocks away, but two thieves may have unwittingly disabled it when they removed it from a rolling suitcase and made off with the luggage. According to the Times, authorities believe Rahami drove his father’s car into New York City shortly before the Chelsea blast at 8:30 p.m, and surveillance footage shows him in the area with baggage.
Three pipe bombs were attached to each other and left in a trash can along the route of a US Marine Corps charity 5K race in Seaside Park, New Jersey. One bomb exploded ataround 9:30am on Saturday, but the race hadn’t started yet and nobody was injured. Five more pipe bombs were found late Saturday night in a backpack on top of a garbage can near a train station in Elizabeth, just a few minutes away from the Rahami family’s restaurant, suggesting the possibility that Rahami ditched them there after fleeing Chelsea.
Rahami was caught the following morning after he was found sleeping in the doorway of Merdie’s Tavern in Linden, New Jersey, a town near Elizabeth. He shot one police officer, who was saved by a bulletproof vest, and fired wildly with a handgun at others as a he tried to flee on foot. Rahami was shot several times by police, but he is expected to survive.
Where’s his wife?
On one of his early trips to Pakistan, Rahami found a wife. CNN reported that he filed paperwork to bring her to the US in 2011, but it’s still unclear whether she ever made the trip. New Jersey Congressman Albio Sires said Rahami contacted his office in 2014 seeking help with his wife’s immigration paperwork.
“He wanted his wife to come from Pakistan,” Sires said on MSNBC. “At the time she was pregnant and in Pakistan. They told her that she could not come over until she had the baby, because she had to get a visa for the baby.”
The Los Angeles Times cited an unnamed US official as saying she was allowed to enter the country at some point, and returned to Pakistan a few days before the bombings. She was reportedly questioned by officials in the United Arab Emirates, but her current whereabouts are unknown.
Rahami also had a daughter with a high school girlfriend, according to the New York Times.
Why didn’t anybody see this coming?
According to the Times, Rahami’s father warned police after a domestic dispute incident in 2014 that his son was a terrorist. Two unnamed law enforcement officials told the paper that Rahami’s father made the comment to New Jersey police, and the information was passed along to a regional terrorism task force led by the FBI’s Newark office. The father reportedly changed his tune when the FBI came to interview him, saying he made the comment out of anger.
Rahami had a few previous encounters with law enforcement, including an incident in 2014 when he was arrested on weapons and aggravated assault charges for allegedly stabbing a relative in the leg in a domestic incident, according to court records found by the New York Times. He spent three months in jail, but a grand jury declined to indict him. He was also reportedly arrested and jailed for a day in February 2012 for allegedly violating a restraining order.
While Rahami’s frequent travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan certainly looks suspicious in hindsight, he had family members in both countries, giving him a legitimate reason to visit.
He was also, by most accounts, mild-mannered and well-liked. Acquaintances told theTimes he enjoyed racing and tricking out his Honda Civic, and a high school friend said he was relatively popular. “Everyone seemed to like him,” the friend told the Times. “Smart, funny, humble.” There was reportedly some tension with his father, who was more religious and traditional, but nothing that raised red flags.
His bail is set at $5.2 million.
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