US bombings: Suspect 'planned attacks for months'

Police officers at Times Square in New York City on Tuesday. Security remains at a heightened level following the bombings.
Police officers at Times Square in New York City on Tuesday. Security remains at a heightened level following the bombings.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He allegedly did dry run days before assault, drew inspiration from Osama and others

NEW YORK • The man who the US authorities say set off powerful bombs in Manhattan and New Jersey over the weekend planned the attacks for months, conducted a dry run just days before unleashing his assault and drew inspiration from "Brother Osama bin Laden" and other terrorists, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.

Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, was charged with crimes, including use of weapons of mass destruction, and the criminal complaint against him outlines how close the attacks came to that.

Rahami was arrested on Monday after a gunfight with police in Linden, New Jersey. He is being treated for his wounds at a Newark hospital, where he could formally face his charges if he cannot travel to the United States District Court in Manhattan, said his lawyer, who asked a judge to schedule his first court appearance for yesterday, possibly in his hospital bed.

The bomb Rahami is accused of detonating in Manhattan's Chelsea neighbourhood last Saturday night was powerful enough to vault a heavy steel Dumpster more than 37m through the air, according to the complaint. Pieces were recovered almost 200m away.

Among the 31 victims - two more than first reported - one had to have multiple ball bearings removed from her body as well as bits of metal from an ear and wood shards from her neck.

  • 31 Number of victims. One of them had to have ball bearings, metal and wood bits removed from her body.

    37 Number of metres a heavy steel Dumpster was vaulted through the air by the bomb.

The charges came on a day when it was revealed that federal agents first became aware of Rahami two years ago when his father, Mohammad, told the authorities that he feared his son was a terrorist, after a family fight during which he stabbed his brother in the leg with a knife, court records showed.

Rahami's father later recanted and said he had spoken out of anger. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reviewed the matter but did not find any basis for a fuller inquiry.

The complaint said Rahami was motivated by an extremist ideology that he recorded in a notebook he had with him when he was taken into custody. Pierced by a bullet and splattered with blood, the journal contains screeds against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In one handwritten message, Rahami pleaded that he not be caught before carrying out his attacks.

"My heart I pray to the beautiful wise ALLAH," he wrote. "To not take JIHAD away from. I beg."

Elsewhere in the notebook, the complaint said, he referred to pipe bombs and pressure cookers, as well as to shooting police officers.

Rahami wrote of "killing the kuffar", or unbelievers, and praised terrorist figures, including Anwar al-Awlaki, once Al-Qaeda's leading propagandist, who died in a drone strike in Yemen, as well as the soldier who killed 13 people in a shooting at Fort Hood in 2009.

Rahami had been meticulously planning his attack since at least June, according to the complaint, acquiring the materials he used to construct weapons, often via eBay.

Two days before the bombing in Chelsea, according to the complaint, Rahami recorded a video of himself igniting an incendiary device in the backyard of his Elizabeth, New Jersey, home.

The lighting of a fuse, the complaint said, was followed by "billowing smoke and laughter", before Rahami was seen entering the frame and picking up the device.

Investigators had also scrutinised trips Rahami made overseas, particularly to Pakistan. His wife, Asia, who left the US days before the bombing, is in the United Arab Emirates. She provided a statement to the FBI, according to officials, and the authorities are working to bring her back to the country as soon as possible.

The FBI believes that Rahami acted alone, but is trying to speak with everyone who knew him.

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2016, with the headline 'US bombings: Suspect 'planned attacks for months''. Print Edition | Subscribe