Barely a day after his apprehension following a dramatic shootout, the suspect believed responsible for attacks in New York and New Jersey this weekend was charged with bombing, property destruction and use of weapons of mass destruction – but not with terrorism or material support, as was expected.
Ahmed Khan Rahami left 12 fingerprints on one of the bombs he planted and purchased materials for his bombs under his own name on eBay, according to federal charging documents released late on Tuesday.
The charges, filed in federal court in lower Manhattan, suggest that investigators were unable to connect Rahami to a terrorist group, though the documents quote a journal on his person referring to jihad and prominent jihadi figures.
According to a criminal complaint by FBI special agent Peter Frederick Licata, Rahami was responsible for bombs constructed out of a pressure cooker and placed in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood on Saturday, as well as pipe bombs in New Jersey’s Seaside Park and Elizabeth, the latter of which is where Rahami resided. The bombs injured at least 29 people, and caused significant property damage.
The criminal complaint alleges that Rahami left copious fingerprints on one of two bombs in Manhattan, on 27th Street, as well as on materials in the backpack containing the Elizabeth bombs. Licata’s review of surveillance footage near the other bomb location, on 23rd Street, found a positive identification of Rahami “pulling a small suitcase” two minutes before the detonation.
Responding to the allegations that Rahami bought materials for the bombs on eBay, the company said: “We’ve been proactively working with law enforcement authorities on their investigation. The types of items bought by the suspect are legal to buy and sell in the United States and are widely available at online and offline stores.”
Also, an unidentified telephone service provider cooperating with the FBI indicated that it shipped two cellphones, used as detonators, to a store in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, near a residence Rahami claimed. Both phones were used in the Seaside Park and Chelsea bombs.
Another phone used in the Chelsea bombs, the complaint alleges, “was subscribed in the name of a family member” of Rahami’s, although no one else has been charged as an accomplice. An unspecified family member’s phone, now in the possession of the FBI, contains videos showing Rahami in a backyard in Elizabeth showing Rahami “igniting incendiary material” two days before the bombings.
The bombs themselves, while powerful, failed to kill anyone and appeared to investigators to demonstrate minimal technical sophistication, leading some to believe their designs emerged from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s English-language web magazine ‘Inspire.’ Although the Manhattan bombs reportedly used high-powered explosive – with one placed in a dumpster, a curious choice for a lethal device – they were “something any 12 year old could do if he had access to Christmas lights, a phone and ball bearings,” a US official told the Guardian.
Legally, a charge of use of weapons of mass destruction does not necessarily have to involve chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons.
If the bombs were crude, the hunt for Rahami, an Elizabeth, New Jersey resident who worked at his family’s fried-chicken spot, and the circumstances of his capture have proven extraordinary.
On Monday morning, the New York police department used an emergency-notification system, typically employed for information on disasters or severe weather, to broadcast onto mobile phones an alert for Rahami.
Hours later, as Rahami lay sleeping in the vestibule of a bar on Linden, NJ’s East Elizabeth Avenue, the bar owner contacted local police, who recognized Rahami. Using a handgun, Rahami shot and wounded one officer attempting to arrest him and wounded another with a bullet fragment during a chase that ended with Rahami shot and wounded himself several blocks west.
By Tuesday, Rahami was out of surgery and facing initial charges, in New Jersey’s Union County, of five counts of attempted murder of police officers. The New York Times first reported that a notebook found on Rahami’s person contained writings praising the American al-Qaida propagandist Anwar Awlaki and the 2009 Fort Hood killer, army major Nidal Malik Hasan.
According to the criminal complaint, the notebook refers to US “slaughter against the mujahideen be it in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sham [Syria], Palestine… Inshallah [God willing] the sounds of the bombs will be heard in the streets. Gun shots to your police. Death To Your Oppression.”
Investigators were reportedly attempting to interrogate a stable but still critical Rahami on Tuesday morning outside the boundaries of the so-called Miranda warning, which protects against self-incrimination. Statements someone makes outside of Miranda cannot be used against them at trial, but can be used for intelligence purposes, to include determining any connection Rahami had to established terrorist groups.
Adding to the saga, Rahami’s father told reporters on Tuesday that he had tipped the FBI off to his own son. Mohammed Rahami said he contacted the bureau after his son was doing “really bad” following a violent outburst in 2014, but later recanted. Still, the admission that the FBI had Rahami brought to their attention presented a complication for the bureau, which came under sharp criticism fordropping a preliminary investigation into Orlando shooter Omar Mateen for lack of predication.
“In August 2014, the FBI initiated an assessment of Ahmad Rahami based upon comments made by his father after a domestic dispute that were subsequently reported to authorities,” the bureau confirmed in a statement.
“The FBI conducted internal database reviews, interagency checks, and multiple interviews, none of which revealed ties to terrorism.”
The FBI did not clarify if it interviewed Rahami himself. A US official confirmed that Rahami was not on any US watchlist.
Rahami is alleged to have taken a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to published reports, though the timeline is unclear. The criminal complaint does not make any mention of a foreign trip.