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Alleged Chelsea bomber seeking change of venue, court papers say

Ahmad Khan Rahimi, the man accused of setting

Ahmad Khan Rahimi, the man accused of setting off bombs in New Jersey and New York in September, injuring more than 30 people, is led into court in Elizabeth, N.J. on Dec. 20, 2016. Photo Credit: AP / Mel Evans

Lawyers for accused Chelsea bomber Ahmad Khan Rahimi are urging a federal judge to move his trial to Vermont or Washington, D.C., according to a motion filed in federal court in Manhattan late Wednesday.

The lawyers said a survey showed 45 percent of potential jurors locally already believe Rahimi is guilty, and pervasive publicity in New York has demonized Rahimi.

The motion also said prejudicial statements and news releases by the government, including tweets by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, had contributed to an atmosphere in which Rahimi can’t get a fair trial.

“Bharara accused Mr. Rahimi of being the ‘Chelsea bomber’ who ‘attacked’ the ‘American way of life’ and would face ‘terrorism charges,’” the motion said.

“Mr. Bharara said Mr. Rahimi was ‘driven by a commitment to violent jihad,’” it added. “Despite Mr. Bharara’s public statements, Mr. Rahimi is not, in fact, charged with a terrorism offense.”

Rahimi, 33, of Elizabeth, New Jersey, was charged in New York last year with planting two bombs in Chelsea in September. One exploded and injured more than 30 people.

The New York federal charges include using a weapon of mass destruction and explosives charges.

He was also charged in New Jersey with planting bombs there and with crimes stemming from a shootout with Linden police when he was apprehended.

The defense motion said that 90 percent of New Yorkers are aware of Rahimi’s case, as opposed to about 70 percent in Washington and Vermont.

It also said that, according to the defense survey, only 35 percent of New Yorkers are uncertain about Rahimi’s guilt, compared to 55 percent in Washington and 60 percent in Vermont.

Motions for change of venue are typically hard to win. U.S. District Judge Richard Berman has scheduled the trial to begin in October.

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