Convicted Chelsea bomber Ahmad Khan Rahimi received a mandatory life sentence in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday for planting bombs in 2016 that injured 30 people, and a tongue-lashing from the judge and a victim for failing to show an ounce of remorse.
The sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman was a foregone conclusion ever since Rahimi’s conviction last year on eight federal charges, including one carrying a mandatory 30-year prison term and another requiring a consecutive life sentence.
Rahimi, 30, an Afghan-American from Elizabeth, New Jersey, wore a blue prison smock and white cap and smiled and chuckled with his lawyer during the sentencing.
He didn’t mention the bombings in his statement to the judge.
Instead, in a conversational voice, Rahimi complained about a series of experiences — prison issues, Muslims getting “harassed” at airports, and alleged FBI failings when his father alerted authorities to his radicalism — that he suggested showed the United States wasn’t what it claimed to be.
“I came to the U.S. when I was 7 years old. I didn’t come here harboring any hatred of anyone,” Rahimi said. “ . . . I didn’t grow up hating anyone — not a color, not a creed, not a religion.”
Berman, who imposed sentences of life and then 30 years in prison to be finished before a final mandatory life sentence, was perplexed.
“You sound reasonable enough, yet your actions are totally at odds with how you’re speaking in court,” Berman said. “It’s really puzzling.”
The judge continued: “I didn’t hear anything, not an ounce of justification, for what you did. There’s no comparison from these slights or grievances you might feel and the actions you took as the Chelsea bomber . . . One thing a life sentence does is to make sure you can’t do it again.”
Rahimi was convicted of the Sept. 17, 2016, planting of homemade pressure-cooker bombs on West 23rd Street and West 27th Street. The West 23rd Street bomb, packed with ball bearings, caused injuries across a 650-square-foot crime scene, crumpled and catapulted a nearby trash bin, and broke windows three stories up.
No one died. The West 27th Street bomb was disabled before going off. Rahimi also allegedly left six pipe bombs at a New Jersey train station that were found and disabled, and allegedly put a bomb near a Seaside Park, New Jersey, 5K race. It detonated when runners would have been passing but for a delayed start.
The courtroom Tuesday was filled with victims, several of whom testified at his trial last year. Only one spoke at the sentencing — Pauline Nelson, a personal trainer from Brooklyn who was driving on West 23rd Street when the bomb exploded, leaving her children terrified.
Nelson told Rahimi she too was an immigrant — a single mother with four children who struggled like he had — but scorned his behavior in court.
“You laugh with your lawyer. You’ve no apology for what you’ve done,” she said, glaring at a sheepish Rahimi. “You have no remorse. God forgive you.”
Rahimi, a father of three who worked at his family’s chicken fast-food restaurant, has been in jail since his release from a hospital in 2016, after treatment of wounds suffered when he was apprehended in a shootout with police in Linden, New Jersey.
His father, Mohammad, who has denounced Rahimi’s violence, came to the sentencing and afterward repeated his son’s complaint, telling reporters his son was increasingly radicalized by civilian deaths in Afghanistan but that officials did nothing when he asked for help in 2014.
“I said he needs some help,” the father said. “Wash his brain. And the government never helped.”
Law enforcement officials said quick action in the case would help deter terrorism.
“Less than a year and a half after his attacks, Rahimi has now been tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison,” said interim Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman.
Rahimi still faces federal charges in New Jersey relating to the bombs he allegedly planted there, and state charges in New Jersey stemming from his shootout with Linden police officers when he was captured.