This story was reported by Vincent Barone, Tom Brune, Anthony Destefano, Bart Jones, Robert E. Kessler, Chau Lam, John Riley, and Andrew Smith. It was written by Jones.
Chelsea bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami wrote of “Brother Osama Bin Laden,” declared “Death To Your OPPRESSION,” and worried he’d be caught before he could carry out a suicide attack, according to a journal recovered after his arrest and contained in a federal complaint Tuesday.
Investigators took Rahami into custody Monday after he was shot multiple times earlier in the day during a running gunfight with police officers in Linden, New Jersey.
Federal prosecutors charged Rahami on Tuesday with use of weapons of mass destruction, bombing a place of public use, destruction of property by means of explosives, and use of a destructive device during and in furtherance of a crime of violence, according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan.
Rahami faces four counts in connection with the Saturday bombing on West 23rd Street in the Chelsea section of Manhattan and the placement of a second explosive device a few blocks north on West 27th Street, according to the complaint.
A separate federal complaint, filed Tuesday in New Jersey, charged Rahami with six counts — including two more for use of a weapon of mass destruction — related to the Saturday morning bombing in Seaside Park, New Jersey, and the discovery of an explosive-laden package Sunday night near the Elizabeth, New Jersey, train station.
If convicted, Rahami could spend the rest of his life in prison. Union County, New Jersey, prosecutors charged him Monday with attempted murder of a police officer and unlawful possession of a weapon. His bail was set at $5.2 million.
The court filings provided a trove of new details about Rahami’s background and possible motivations for the Chelsea bombing — so far elusive to investigators. The New York complaint revealed that a family member took a cellphone video of Rahami igniting an incendiary object at his Elizabeth home just two days before the Saturday bombings.
The blast concussion from the Chelsea blast blew the windows out of buildings nearly 500 feet away and at least three stories high inside the 600-foot crime scene, according to the complaint.
And it was not enough to pack gunpowder and other material into an explosive device. The bomb that detonated on 23rd Street was packed with ballbearings and steel nuts for a maxium lethal outcome, according to the complaint.
The court filings also again underscored the similarities between Rahami’s alleged actions and those of the Boston Marathon bombers in 2013. Like the Boston plotters, Rahami crafted crudely made pressure-cooker bombs.
The Chelsea explosions wounded 29, ratcheted up fears among already on-edge New Yorkers and added another security concern for the NYPD, days before the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan. An explosion in Seaside Park, New Jersey, on Saturday, also the work of Rahami, authorities said, forced the cancellation of a running race, but there were no injuries.
Also Tuesday, the FBI revealed that Rahami’s father told agents two years ago that he suspected his son was a terrorist, but an investigation determined the 28-year-old had no ties to terrorism.
Authorities said Rahami, who remains hospitalized, has not cooperated with investigators. And despite the references to jihad and global terrorism written in his journal, investigators said they have yet to find anything linking Rahami to terrorist groups abroad or any domestic cells.
Another similarity to the events surrounding the Boston bombing emerged Tuesday. Like the Tsarnaev brothers, who carried out the marathon bombings, federal officials had previously known of Rahami.
An FBI spokeswoman said in a statement that the agency “initiated an assessment” of Rahami in August 2014 “based upon comments made by his father after a domestic dispute that were subsequently reported to authorities.”
But the FBI’s probe, based on “internal database reviews, interagency checks, and multiple interviews,” did not reveal any “ties to terrorism,” New York-based FBI spokeswoman Kelly Langmesser said.
Sources said Rahami’s father, Mohammad Rahami, complained his son was a terrorist to local police, who eventually passed remarks on to a Newark-based FBI joint terrorism task force.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) questioned why the FBI failed to follow up on warning signs about Rahami just like before the Boston Marathon in 2013 and before Omar Matteen killed scores in June inside an Orlando nightclub.
“I just find there is a pattern here,” King said in a telephone interview. “I was aware that Homeland Security referred him to the FBI” after Ahmad Khan Rahami made trips to Afghanistan, something that is “pretty much standard procedure.”
King, chairman of the House subcommittee on counterterrorism, said “the FBI didn’t find anything. This seems somewhat similar to Orlando and Boston.”
Rahami’s father eventually retracted the claim against his son, saying he had been upset at Ahmad for stabbing another son, sources said. The father also told authorities he made the call because his son was hanging out with the wrong crowd, including gangs.
The video captured on the cellphone shows Rahami in a backyard with a small, black, cylindrical object buried in the ground, according to the complaint.
“The fuse is lit and the object ignites,” the complaint stated. “The Video depicts the lighting of the fuse, a loud noise and flames, followed by billowing smoke and laughter. Rahami then enters the frame and is seen picking up the cylindrical container.”
The journal, the complaint stated, included laudatory references to Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric said to be a senior al-Qaida planner at the time of his death in 2011 after a U.S. drone strike. In one entry Rahami says he hoped he wouldn’t get caught before he could carry out a suicide attack.
“The F.B.I. & homeland security [unintelligible] looking for me [unintelligible] my heart I pray I beg [unintelligible] for shahadat & Inshallah ,” according to the entry.
In the affidavit, FBI agent Peter Licata said Rahami planted two different bombs made of pressure cookers filled with shrapnel and using cellphones as fuses on 23rd and 27th streets in Manhattan Saturday.
The affidavit also said Rahami planted a bomb that exploded in a trash container at the start of the charity race in Seaside Park, and left five other bombs that didn’t detonate at a location near the Elizabeth train station.
Licata said 12 of Rahami’s fingerprints were found on the 27th Street bomb and he was caught on surveillance video. Agents were able to trace his purchases of bomb components on the internet — including citric acid, a precursor used in explosives, a circuit board, igniters and lead balls used as shrapnel, according to the complaint.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
- 9:30 a.m.: A pipe bomb explodes in Seaside Park, New Jersey, just before the start of a charity 5K race. No one was injured.
- 8:30 p.m.: An improvised explosive device detonates inside a trash bin on 23rd Street, between Sixth and Seventh avenues, in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, according to police. A total of 29 people are injured.
- 11 p.m.: Mayor Bill de Blasio says in a news conference from the scene that the Chelsea blast was an “intentional” act.
- 12:13 a.m.: The NYPD asks residents on 27th Street, between Sixth and Seventh avenues, to stay clear of their windows as police remove a suspicious package.
- 2:20 a.m.: The suspicious device, which was found by responding New York State Police troopers and turned out to be a pressure cooker with a cellphone and wires attached to it, is removed and taken by the NYPD Bomb Squad to a facility in the Bronx.
- 10:15 a.m.: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announces about 1,000 more State Police and National Guard members to patrol the bus terminal airports and subway stations.
- 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.: The secondary device is rendered safe at the Rodman’s Neck Range in the Bronx. The device is sent to the FBI’s laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.
- 8:30 p.m.: Five devices are found in a bag in a trash can near the Elizabeth, New Jersey, train station. One of the devices later explodes as a bomb squad attempts to disarm it with a robot.
- 8:45 p.m.: FBI agents pull over a car on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, taking five people into custody for questioning in connection with the Chelsea bombing, according to reports. The five people in the vehicle were relatives of suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami, but it’s not clear whether they were involved in the bombing.
- 8 a.m.: Police release the photo and description of Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, a U.S. citizen who was born in Afghanistan, according to the FBI. His last known address was in Elizabeth.
- 10:30 a.m.: Police in Linden, New Jersey, respond to a call of a man sleeping in the doorway of a bar at 700 E. Elizabeth Ave., Linden. The man turns out to be Rahami, who then fires at officers, wounding two before he is taken into custody.