Suspect in New York, New Jersey blasts inspired by various terrorists

Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, is shown in this US Prosecutor's Office photo.
Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, is shown in this US Prosecutor's Office photo.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - The man accused of a bombing rampage in New York and New Jersey mentioned an eclectic mix of terrorist inspirations, including Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in a journal recovered as evidence, the authorities revealed.

In the journal, which Ahmad Khan Rahami had with him during his shoot-out with police, the 28-year-old wrote about Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, radical American preacher Anwar al-Awlaki and Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the authorities said on Wednesday (Sept 21). He also alluded to the Boston Marathon bombing and the 2009 Fort Hood shooting in Texas, the authorities said.

On Wednesday, Republican Representative Michael McCaul of Texas displayed an image of one bloody, apparently bullet-damaged page from the journal, which has offered officials the most detailed window yet into what might have motivated Rahami.

In the journal, Rahami appears to refer to guidance from Adnani to "clearly attack the kuffar in their backyard". Kuffar is an Arabic term for non-believers.

Rahami, who remained hospitalised with wounds from that encounter, is charged in two federal courts - in Manhattan and in Newark - with nine counts stemming from the attacks, including using weapons of mass destruction and bombing a public place.

 
 

He is accused of planting several bombs - first in Seaside, New Jersey, along a scheduled race route, in a trash container and along the street in New York's Chelsea neighbourhood, and at a train station in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Thirty-one people were hurt in the Chelsea blast; no one was injured in the others.

Mr Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said that the Manhattan case would be the first to proceed and that prosecutors there had filed a writ with the US Marshals Service in the hope of bringing Rahami to court soon. If convicted, Rahami could be sentenced to life in prison.

Investigators, meanwhile, continued to probe how Rahami carried out the attacks, whether he acted alone and what direction or inspiration he might have drawn from trips overseas.

Rahami, a naturalised citizen born in Afghanistan, travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan between 2011 and 2014, including a stay in Quetta, Pakistan, a stronghold of militant groups.

In 2014, the FBI conducted an "assessment" on Rahami - a very low-level probe in response to a tip to determine whether there is cause to open a preliminary investigation.

Those trips would have surfaced in the assessment, which included checks of internal databases, officials said. But travel alone to a country that harbours members of Al-Qaeda or the Taleban would not be enough to open an investigation, particularly if the person was from that country.

Nothing about Rahami at that time "suggested that he had ties to terrorism to justify" opening a preliminary investigation, said a senior law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the probe is ongoing.

Law enforcement officials said that in July, Rahami bought a Glock 9mm handgun from a gun dealer in Salem, Virginia, a firearm that he used to shoot two Linden, New Jersey, police officers who were trying to take him into custody.

Buying a handgun in Virginia requires state residency, but one official said Rahami was able to legally purchase the gun in Salem because he presented a valid Virginia ID with an address in Roanoke. He also passed a federal background check, officials said.

The officials would not disclose the name of the gun store. One said Rahami had relatives in the area, two of whom were taken into custody in a vehicle on Sunday night and released amid a law enforcement manhunt.

New York police and FBI officials said on Wednesday afternoon that they also were seeking two men who were caught on surveillance footage on Saturday night encountering a bomb in a suitcase on a Manhattan street. Police have said the men removed the bomb from the suitcase, then walked away with the luggage.

Mr James Waters, the New York police department's chief of counter-terrorism, said investigators had "no reason to believe that they're connected" to the bombings, but detectives were hoping to talk to them and recover the suitcase. He said that the men were "very, very lucky" to have avoided injury, given that what they handled "was a very shock-sensitive device".

A combination of luck, and Rahami's ineptitude, probably minimised the damage from the attacks, officials said. In the criminal complaint against Rahami, officials said he and his car were caught on surveillance cameras, and he left a host of fingerprints on the materials recovered by authorities.

The complaint said that Rahami had bought numerous items related to explosives - including igniters, circuit boards and citric acid - on eBay and had them shipped to his workplace.

Investigators also found that a social media account used by Rahami had videos relating to jihad or holy war.

"He wasn't really quite sure what he was doing," said Mr Gregory Shaffer, a former FBI agent who has worked extensively on national security issues. "He's a wannabe. A lot of these terrorists are that way."