Ahmad Khan Rahami: New York bombings suspect arrested after shootout

Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-year-old naturalized US citizen, taken into custody as friend says he ‘got more religious’ after trip to Afghanistan, his country of birth

A shootout on the streets of New Jersey ended a dramatic manhunt on Monday as police arrested a man suspected of involvement in weekend bombings that injured 29 people in New York.

Ahmad Khan Rahami, a 28-year-old naturalized US citizen born in Afghanistan, had hours earlier been named in a “wanted” alert sent to millions of local cellphones as Manhattan prepared to host world leaders at the United Nations general assembly.

At a media briefing on Monday afternoon, police and FBI officials said they had linked Rahami to Saturday’s bombing in Chelsea, another unexploded device found nearby, both constructed in pressure cookers packed with metallic fragmentation material. They also said he was believed to be linked to a pipe bomb that blew up in Seaside Park, New Jersey, on Saturday and explosive devices found in the town of Elizabeth on Sunday.

By evening, prosecutors charged Rahami with five counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon and second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. He is being held on $5.2m bail.

A businessman in Linden, New Jersey, found and reported Rahami asleep in the doorway of his bar, the town’s mayor, Derek Armstead, said on Monday morning. When police arrived, Rahami pulled a gun and shot an officer, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, in the torso. Officers then joined in a running gun battle down the street and brought down Rahami, police captain James Sarnicki said.

Another officer was grazed on the hand by a bullet, officials said, and both were expected to recover. Rahami was shot in the leg and underwent surgery, FBI agent Bill Sweeney said. He would not answer questions about any possible links to other people or groups, but said, “I have no indication that there’s a cell operating in the area or in the city,” with the caveat that “the investigation is ongoing”.

Fears of an active terror cell grew earlier on Monday morning when five other suspicious devices were found near a train station in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and one exploded as the bomb squad attempted to disarm it with a robot. The devices are believed connected to the pipe bomb explosion on Saturday.

Shootout in New Jersey leads to suspected bomber’s arrest

Flee Jones, 27, who said he’d known Rahami since they were teenagers, told reporters he’d noticed a change in Rahami’s personality after a trip to Afghanistan in 2014. When Rahami returned, he “got more religious” and dressed differently than before, Jones said.

“He was more quiet and more mature,” Jones said. “I said, ‘Oh, where have you been?’ And he said, ‘Oh, vacation.’ But I knew he went to Afghanistan because his little brother said it.”

A Democratic New Jersey congressman, Albio Sires, said Rahami contacted his office from Pakistan in 2014 seeking help because his wife had an expired Pakistani passport. Sires said his office wrote a letter to the US embassy in Pakistan to check on the status of the case and the woman eventually received a visa. He said he didn’t know if she ever came to the country, and the FBI didn’t answer when asked on Monday.

Speaking in a televised address to the country, Barack Obama stressed that the three east coast incidents were not thought to be directly linked to a separate stabbing incident at a shopping mall in Minnesota, but this too was being investigated as a separate possible act of terrorism.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the stabbing rampage, in which a man who authorities say referred to Allah wounded nine people before being shot dead by an off-duty police officer on Saturday. No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Amid mounting concern that the series of apparent terrorism incidents could provide political ammunition for Donald Trump, Obama called on Americans to show the world that “we do not give into fear”.

“At moments like this it is important to remember what terrorist and violent extremists are trying to do,” the president said in a televised statement in New York. “They are trying to hurt innocent people but they also want to inspire fear in all of us and disrupt the way we live and undermine our values. So even as we have to be vigilant and aggressive in preventing acts of senseless violence, we all have a role to play as citizens to make sure we don’t succumb to that fear.”

Bombings manhunt map

Although not referring to reports of an arrest and leaving details of the unfolding inquiry to the FBI, Obama hinted at a possible foreign terrorist link behind the weekend attacks.

“We will continue to lead the global coalition in the fight to destroy Isil, which is instigating a lot of people over the internet to carry out attacks,” he said, using an alternative name for Isis.

Earlier, Hillary Clinton also accused Trump of “giving aid and comfort” to terrorist adversaries by seeking to exploit an unfolding manhunt to help him win November’s election.

“We are going to have to go after the bad guys and we are going to get them but we are not going to go after an entire religion and give Isis exactly what it is wanting,” Clinton told a media conference outside New York.

FBI in New Jersey
FBI investigators investigate inside the family restaurant and adjoined apartment of Ahmad Khan Rahami in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on Monday. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

But Trump quickly responded to what he claimed was a “disgusting attempt” by Clinton to distract from US foreign policy failures by suggesting he was a traitor.

“Hillary Clinton’s comments today accusing Mr Trump of treason are not only beyond the pale, it’s also an attempt to distract from her horrible record on Isis,” said a campaign spokesman.

CCTV shows moment of New York City explosion

“The only thing we can expect from a Hillary Clinton presidency is more attacks on our homeland and more innocent Americans being hurt and killed,” added the Trump statement.

FBI and ATF teams raided Rahami’s home in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where he apparently lived with his father and brothers, but found it empty. The apartment is located above the First American Fried Chicken restaurant that Rahami and his father operated together.

Mayor Chris Bollwage of Elizabeth said the restaurant had faced complaints and problems in 2012, when the city council and police ruled that it should close at 10pm.

Speaking at a New York police department briefing, commissioner James O’Neill said police were not seeking a second suspect. He and Sweeney stressed that though investigators were pleased to have captured Rahami, they had more work to do before they could discuss a possible motivation: “I do not have information yet to show what the path of radicalization was yet.”

He added: “We are the number one target in the world, but as far as this investigation, and working with the FBI, I know that I’m a lot happier than I was at this time yesterday.”

O’Neill, whose first day in charge of the NYPD was Saturday, praised police who identified, traced and caught suspect Rahami. He said it had been “an extremely busy day … today our efforts were successful”.

“We had two police officers who were injured out in Linden, New Jersey, and I wish them our best.” He added: “For my first day on this job, but certainly not my first day on the job, I’m certainly so proud of what I saw that day.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio promised “a very strong and visible NYPD presence because of this incident” and the presence of world leaders, including Obama, at the UN general assembly.

“You will see our officers in the subway, you will see bags being checked, bomb-sniffing dogs, that will continue throughout the week,” he said.

Additional reporting by Amber Jamieson in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and the Associated Press

Contributors

Dan Roberts and Jamiles Lartey in New York

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