U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Wednesday that the first prosecution of accused Chelsea bomber Ahmad Rahami will take place in Manhattan federal court, and his office has filed a writ to have U.S. Marshals bring Rahami across the river from New Jersey.
“This is the appropriate and right place for the case to proceed initially,” Bharara said, pointing out that although Rahami also left bombs in New Jersey and engaged in a shootout when he was caught, the greatest damage occurred when 29 people were injured by a bomb that exploded on 23rd Street.
Bharara said he didn’t know when Rahami would actually be brought to federal court — citing “operational issues” with the marshals, the fact that Rahami is currently in the custody of local officials in New Jersey, and Rahami’s medical condition. He is hospitalized in Newark with gunshot wounds.
“We don’t expect it’ll be very long, but I can’t tell you precisely,” Bharara said.
Rahami was accused of terrorism crimes in complaints filed both in New Jersey and Manhattan federal courts late on Tuesday.
The chief federal public defender in Manhattan has filed a letter with a magistrate, complaining that Rahami is being questioned by federal agents without a lawyer and needs to be brought to court quickly.
The defender, David Patton, even suggested that Rahami could be presented in court immediately through a videoconference from his hospital room, but Bharara said that technically, he has not been arrested by federal agents and they are not in control of him.
“As a legal matter, the defendant is in the custody of a local authority,” Bharara said.
In a letter filed Wednesday afternoon in court, prosecutors from Bharara’s office argued that it is premature for the federal public defender to be appointed to represent Rahami, and the filing of a complaint did not trigger his right to counsel.
Neither Bharara nor the letter addressed the claim that he is being questioned without a lawyer.
Bharara also dismissed statements from some in Congress that Rahami should be treated as an “enemy combatant” rather than facing trial in a civilian court with a full array of rights.
“What the law currently allows and dictates … is that we handle it in precisely the way we are handling it,” he said.