Investigation into suspected bomber deepens as prosecutors study possible further charges
Still significant ground to cover, authorities say
Federal prosecutors weighed Tuesday whether to bring additional charges linked to the city and seaside bombings, even as investigators sifted through surveillance video and other clues seeking to determine whether the lone suspect — now in a New Jersey hospital bed — had wider links in plotting the attacks in New York and New Jersey.
A day after a shootout with police that ended in the arrest of 28-year-old Ahmad Khan Rahami, there were no signs that the probe had expanded to other possible suspects or groups.
But authorities made clear that there was still significant ground to cover in learning how the one-time college student allegedly built the makeshift explosives and planned the targets in Manhattan and a beach town in New Jersey on Saturday.
Among the pieces being analyzed were video from New York and electronic toll records that showed a car Rahami had driven in the past traveled from New Jersey to Manhattan and back on Saturday, the Associated Press reported, citing officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss an ongoing case.
Prosecutors charged Rahami, a naturalized U.S. citizen and Afghanistan native, with five counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer. He is expected to face further charges. It was not clear Tuesday whether Rahami had made statements to investigators.
On Monday, FBI agents were still working “to make sure we completely understand Rahami’s social network,” said William Sweeney Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York division.
The case was “still very much alive,” added New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill.
Law enforcement officials said they believed Rahami was responsible for the bombing in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood Saturday night that wounded 29 and for a blast earlier that day along a scheduled race route in Seaside Park, N.J. No one was hurt in that incident, as racers had yet to pass the site.
The bombs used were somewhat different, which initially led to theories of possible separate plots. In Chelsea, federal officials said, the perpetrator used two pressure cookers filled with shrapnel and ball bearings — one exploded, and one did not. In Seaside Park, pipe bombs were deployed.
But as investigators reviewed surveillance footage and analyzed the bombs, they came to believe that the incidents were related.
They quietly zeroed in on Rahami, a 5-foot-6, 200-pound man whose family runs a fried-chicken joint in Elizabeth, N.J.
Sweeney said that Rahami was not previously on the FBI’s radar and that investigators were working to determine whether he was radicalized in some way or if there was some other motive.
Two federal officials said a fingerprint from a cellphone that was recovered proved key to identifying him. Officials also said they obtained DNA evidence from the crime scene.
U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials said that Rahami made several trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan between 2011 and 2014 and that they were trying to determine whether he was radicalized abroad. One senior intelligence official said he didn’t see any indication that was the case.
“I think this falls in the same category of what we’ve been worried about — the self radicalized individual,” the official said. It is unclear how he learned about bomb-making — maybe online as the Boston Marathon bombers did, the official said, “but there’s no information yet to indicate motivation.” One official said he was licensed to carry a firearm.
On the campaign trail, the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates seized on the incident to criticize each other. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said anti-Muslim rhetoric by GOP opponent Donald Trump was “giving aid and comfort” to the Islamic State. Trump said current anti-terrorism efforts are insufficient at home and abroad, and he blamed President Barack Obama and Clinton, who served as Obama’s first secretary of state. Trump also suggested that profiling may be necessary to counter the threat.
Authorities began to make their move on Rahami on Sunday night. Near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Brooklyn, they stopped a vehicle that had been spotted at a location associated with Rahami and took five people into custody, Sweeney said.
Sunday night, at a train station not far from the Rahami home in Elizabeth, two homeless men found more explosives in a backpack, and in trying to render them safe, authorities inadvertently detonated one. No one was hurt. Federal law enforcement officials said they believe Rahami was responsible for that incident, too.
The FBI searched the Rahami family’s home, above the chicken restaurant, and, for the first time, broadcast the suspect’s name and picture publicly.
About 10:30 a.m. Monday, they caught a break. A businessman spotted someone who he thought was a vagrant sleeping at his doorway in Linden, N.J., and called police, said Linden Mayor Derek Armstead. An officer went to wake the man, and Rahami lifted his head.
The officer immediately recognized him from the “be on the lookout” alert that was distributed, Armstead said.
The mayor said that within seconds, Rahami had fired a shot and hit the officer in the abdomen, though the officer was spared more serious injury by a protective vest. The officer, Angel Padilla, returned fire, hitting Rahami in the shoulder and leg, Armstead said. He said another officer suffered a graze wound from a bullet that ricocheted off a car.
In addition to the attempted-murder charges, Rahami faces two second-degree counts related to his possession of a handgun, said acting Union County prosecutor Grace H. Park.
Rahami, who was shot multiple times, was taken to University Hospital in Newark for surgery, officials said. They did not elaborate on his condition after surgery.
Bail for Rahami was set at $5.2 million by a state superior court judge.