New York blast suspect vowed ‘bombs will be heard’ in streets, court papers say

Ahmad Rahami allegedly bought bomb-making material on eBay and wrote in a journal he hoped to martyr himself as he praised jihad

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2016, 12:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2016, 10:22pm

Championing jihad, bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami vowed to martyr himself , and he’d hoped in a handwritten journal that “the sounds of bombs will be heard in the streets,” authorities said as they filed federal charges against him.

A criminal complaint in Manhattan federal court on Friday provided new chilling descriptions of the motivations that authorities said drove the Afghan-born US citizen to set off explosives in New York and New Jersey, including a bomb that injured more than two dozen people when it blew up on a busy Manhattan street.

Meanwhile, more details emerged Tuesday about the Afghan-born US citizen’s past, including the disclosure that the FBI had looked into him in 2014 but came up with nothing.

According to the court complaint, Rahami’s journal included a passage that said: “You (USA Government) continue your (unintelligible) slaught(er)” against the mujahideen, or holy warriors, “be it Afghanistan, Iraq, Sham (Syria), Palestine ... .”

Another portion expressed concern at the prospect of being caught before being able to carry out a suicide attack and the desire to be a martyr, the complaint said.

It added that another part included a reference, on a page that is largely unintelligible, to “pipe bombs” and a “pressure cooker bomb,” and declared: “In the streets they plan to run a mile.”

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There were also laudatory references to Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki — the American-born Muslim cleric who was killed in a 2011 drone strike and whose preaching has inspired other acts of violence — and Nidal Hasan, the former Army officer who went on a deadly shooting rampage in 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas, the complaint said.

Before the federal charges were filed, Rahmani, 28, was already being held on US$5.2 million bail, charged with the attempted murder of police officers during the shootout that led to his capture Monday outside a bar in Linden, New Jersey.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Rahami had a lawyer who could comment on the charges. He remained hospitalised with gunshot wounds to the leg, forearm and shoulder.

The court complaint also describes Rahami buying bomb-making equipment so openly that he ordered citric acid, ball bearings and electronic igniters on eBay and had them delivered to a New Jersey business where he worked until earlier this month.

Video recorded two days before the bombings and recovered from a family member’s phone shows him igniting “incendiary material in a cylindrical container,” the complaint says. The video, reviewed by the FBI, “depicts the lighting of the fuse, a loud noise and flames, followed by billowing smoke and laughter.

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Federal agents have attempted to question Rahami in the hospital. But Representative Tom MacArthur of New Jersey, who received a classified briefing from the FBI, said Rahami was not cooperating.

The FBI’s 2014 inquiry began after his father expressed concerns his son might be a terrorist, law enforcement officials said Tuesday. During the inquiry, the father backed away from talk of terrorism and told investigators that he simply meant his son was hanging out with the wrong crowd, including gang members, and acting like a thug, the officials said.

In any case, the FBI checked its databases and other sources and closed the inquiry in a matter of weeks after seeing nothing tying Rahami to terrorism, three law enforcement officials said.

Investigators are looking into Rahami’s overseas travel, including a visit to Pakistan a few years ago, and want to know whether he received any money or training from extremist organizations.

Rahami’s father, Mohammad Rahami, spoke with the FBI after the younger Rahami was charged in 2014 with stabbing his brother, according to the officials, who were not authorised to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity. Rahami was not prosecuted in the stabbing; a grand jury declined to indict him.

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Rahami’s father told reporters Tuesday outside the family’s fried-chicken restaurant in Elizabeth, New Jersey, that he called the FBI at the time because Rahami “was doing real bad,” having stabbed the brother and hit his mother.

“But they checked, almost two months, and they say, ‘He’s OK, he’s clear, he’s not terrorist.’ Now they say he’s a terrorist,” the father said. Asked whether he thought his son was a terrorist, he said: “No. And the FBI, they know that.”

The disclosure of the father’s contacts with the FBI raises questions about whether there was anything more law enforcement could have done at the time to determine whether Rahami had terrorist aspirations.

That issue arose after the Orlando massacre in June, when FBI Director James Comey said agents a few years earlier had looked into the gunman, Omar Mateen, but did not find enough information to pursue charges or keep him under investigation.

In Rahami’s case, the law enforcement official said the FBI had opened up an “assessment,” the least intrusive form of an FBI inquiry. Justice Department guidelines restrict the types of actions agents may take; they cannot, for instance, record phone calls without obtaining a higher level of approval or developing more grounds for suspicion.

“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 said in a statement. “The FBI conducted internal database reviews, interagency checks and multiple interviews, none of which revealed ties to terrorism.”

Rahami provided investigators with a wealth of clues that led to his arrest just 50 hours after the first explosion in Manhattan, including fingerprints and DNA at the scene of the Manhattan bombing and a clear surveillance-camera image of his face near the site of the blast, according to law enforcement officials.