Authorities on Monday arrested the man they believe responsible for the recent bombings in New York and New Jersey after a swift manhunt culminating in a shootout that wounded the suspect and two officers.
Prosecutors charged Ahmad Khan Rahami, a 28-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen and Afghanistan native, with five counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer. He is expected to face further charges in the bombings that set the New York region on edge over the weekend.
Law enforcement and New York City officials said Monday that they do not believe Rahami operated as part of a terrorist cell, and they were not actively seeking any other suspects. But they said they had more work to do to determine what motivated him and if anyone helped.
“We have every reason to believe this was an act of terror,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said.
Law enforcement officials said they believed Rahami was responsible for the bombing in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood Saturday night that wounded 29 and for a blast earlier that day along a scheduled race route in Seaside Park, N.J. No one was hurt in that incident, as racers had yet to pass the site.
Initially, officials said the disturbances had no obvious connections, and they shied from calling either one terrorism. The bombs used were somewhat different. In Chelsea, federal officials said, the perpetrator used two pressure cookers filled with shrapnel and ball bearings — one exploded, and one did not. In Seaside Park, pipe bombs were deployed.
But as investigators reviewed surveillance footage and analyzed the bombs, they came to believe that the incidents were related.
Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that investigators “pulled fingerprints and the cellphone attached to the pressure cooker” and “traced that to another cellphone that he was going to call that from.”
They quietly zeroed in on Rahami, a 5-foot-6, 200-pound man whose family runs a fried-chicken joint in Elizabeth, N.J.
William Sweeney Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York division, said that Rahami was not previously on the bureau’s radar and that investigators were working to determine whether he was radicalized in some way or if there was some other motive.
Two federal officials said a fingerprint from a cellphone that was recovered proved key to identifying him. Officials also said they obtained DNA evidence from the crime scene. U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials said that Rahami made several trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan between 2011 and 2014 and that they were trying to determine whether he was radicalized abroad. One senior intelligence official said he didn’t see any indication that was the case. “I think this falls in the same category of what we’ve been worried about — the self radicalized individual,” the official said. It is unclear how he learned about bomb-making — maybe online as the Boston Marathon bombers did, the official said, “but there’s no information yet to indicate motivation.” One official said he was licensed to carry a firearm.
On the campaign trail, the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates seized on the incident to criticize each other. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said anti-Muslim rhetoric by GOP opponent Donald Trump was “giving aid and comfort” to the Islamic State. Trump said current anti-terrorism efforts are insufficient at home and abroad, and he blamed President Obama and Clinton, who served as Obama’s first secretary of state. Trump also suggested that profiling may be necessary to counter the threat.
Obama praised the fearlessness of the people in New York and New Jersey, noting that they continued going about their business.
“By showing those who want to do us harm that they will never beat us, by showing the entire world that as Americans we do not and never will give into fear, that’s going to be the most important ingredient in us defeating those who would carry out terrorist acts against us,” he said.
Authorities began to make their move on Rahami on Sunday night. Near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Brooklyn, they stopped a vehicle that had been spotted at a location associated with Rahami and took five people into custody, Sweeney said. King said two of those people were relatives of Rahami. The suspect, though, remained on the loose, and authorities believed him to be dangerous.
Sunday night, at a train station not far from the Rahami home in Elizabeth, two homeless men found more explosives in a backpack, and in trying to render them safe, authorities inadvertently detonated one. No one was hurt. Federal law enforcement officials said they believe Rahami was responsible for that incident, too.
The FBI searched the Rahami family’s home, above the chicken restaurant, and, for the first time, broadcast the suspect’s name and picture publicly.
About 10:30 a.m. Monday, they caught a break. A businessman spotted someone who he thought was a vagrant sleeping at his doorway in Linden, N.J., and called police, said Linden Mayor Derek Armstead. An officer went to wake the man, and Rahami lifted his head.
The officer immediately recognized him from the “be on the lookout” alert that was distributed, Armstead said.
The mayor said that within seconds, Rahami had fired a shot and hit the officer in the abdomen, though the officer was spared more serious injury by a bulletproof vest. The officer, Angel Padilla, returned fire, hitting Rahami in the shoulder and leg, Armstead said. He said another officer suffered a graze wound from a bullet that ricocheted off a car.
Rahami was soon taken into custody. Video and photographs showed him dazed, with an apparent shoulder wound, lying with his head against the pavement and then being loaded into an ambulance. His precise condition was not immediately known. As of Monday evening, Rahami had not spoken with investigators, a law enforcement official said.
In addition to the attempted-murder charges, Rahami faces two second-degree counts related to his possession of a handgun, said acting Union County prosecutor Grace H. Park.
Rahami, who was shot multiple times, was taken to University Hospital in Newark for surgery, officials said. They did not elaborate on his condition after surgery.
Bail for Rahami was set at $5.2 million by a state superior court judge.
Authorities said those taken into custody near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge had all been released without charges.
Sweeney said that FBI agents were still working “to make sure we completely understand Rahami’s social network,” and New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said the case was “still very much active.”
New York Police Department Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said officials might soon distribute images of two people who picked up a bag that contained the unexploded device in Chelsea, took it out and then walked away with the bag. But he said that those people were considered “witnesses” and that detectives had “no information that would link them to this at all.”
“Once they picked up the bag, they seemed incredulous they had actually picked this up off the street,” he said, “and they walked off with it.”
The Washington Post
Nakashima reported from New York, and Zapotosky and Berman reported from Washington. Sarah Larimer and Carol Morello contributed to this report from New Jersey. Anne Gearan and John Wagner contributed from New York. Brian Murphy, Sari Horwitz, Sean Sullivan, Julie Tate, Derek Hawkins, William Wan and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed from Washington.