- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Federal authorities late Tuesday charged Ahmad Khan Rahami with planting bombs in New Jersey and New York City, including one that wounded 29 people in Manhattan on Saturday and another in a seaside Jersey town that detonated but injured no one.

The federal charges, which were issued in a criminal complaint in a federal court in Manhattan, come in addition to five state charges of attempted murder against Mr. Rahami, who was wounded Monday in a gunfight with police in Linden, New Jersey, before he was captured. He remained in custody in a hospital Tuesday.

The criminal complaint accuses the 28-year-old U.S. citizen of Afghan descent of placing two bombs in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, including one that did not detonate, and another that exploded near the route of a charity race for U.S. Marines in Seaside Park, New Jersey. The complaint also accuses him of placing five explosive devices in a trash container at a train station in Elizabeth, New Jersey. One of those devices detonated Sunday night while a bomb squad robot was trying to disarm it, but no one was injured.

Earlier Tuesday the FBI told reporters that it had conducted an “assessment” of Mr. Rahami two years ago, when his father said his son might be a terrorist, but agents decided not to pursue a major investigation after interviews and database checks turned up no signs of ties between the young man and terrorist operatives.

Authorities also said that he had in his possession a notebook with extremist ramblings when he was captured Monday.

The Associated Press reported that it had viewed a blood-stained page of the notebook, which contained a reference to Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Muslim cleric and former al Qaeda recruiter, and Nidal Hasan, a former Army major who killed 13 people in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009.

Al-Awlaki, who is widely considered to be one of the most dangerous, prolific and successful jihadi recruiters of the past decade, was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen five years ago this month.

Some law enforcement sources said Tuesday that the references to al-Awlaki suggest the deceased al Qaeda terrorist has reached beyond the grave through dozens of inflammatory videos still circulating on the internet to cajole and agitate a new generation of young Muslims into violent acts against the West.

But there were still many unknowns in the Rahami case, including whether he allegedly worked with others to construct homemade bombs and the extent to which a visit that authorities say he made to Pakistan in recent years may have put him in contact with jihadi influences.

Mr. Rahami, who came to New Jersey as a child when his parents immigrated from Afghanistan in the early 1990s, reportedly returned to his native land to visit with family sometime around 2012. Childhood friends from New Jersey have been quoted as saying the trip changed him and that he had begun praying more and often wore traditional Muslim robes rather than informal Western-style clothing when he returned to the U.S.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said Mr. Rahami more recently made a visit to Pakistan.

Tuesday’s revelations, meanwhile, came as authorities announced that he was being held on $5.2 million bail in connection with state charges filed against him in New Jersey relating to injuries sustained by two police officers during the shootout. Authorities said Officers Angel Padilla and Pete Hammer, both with the Linden police force, have been released from the hospital.

Officer Padilla went home Monday night, several hours after he was shot in the torso — a wound authorities say could have been fatal were it not for a bulletproof vest he was wearing. Officer Hammer was released Tuesday. Authorities say his head was grazed by a bullet or shrapnel.

The state prosecutor in Union County, New Jersey, has charged Mr. Rahami with five counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer and one count of second-degree possession of a weapon.

Meanwhile, a woman who had a child with Mr. Rahami has asked a court to give her full custody of their son. The Edison, New Jersey, woman filed the petition Tuesday with a family court in Union County, revealing little information other than that she had last spoken with Mr. Rahami by telephone in January.

On the brief court form, the woman indicated that she was requesting full custody of the child because the “defendant has been charged with police attempted murder and is currently under protective services after possible terrorist related activity in NYC.”

Prior FBI contact

The FBI file on Mr. Rahami dates back to 2014, when agents began looking into the young man’s activities after his father had expressed concern about his son, apparently to a neighbor, following an incident in which local authorities were called to the family’s home in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

“In August 2014, the FBI initiated an assessment of Ahmad Rahami based upon comments made by his father after a domestic dispute that were subsequently reported to authorities,” the bureau said in a statement Tuesday. “The FBI conducted internal database reviews, interagency checks, and multiple interviews, none of which revealed ties to terrorism.”

The “assessment” represents the FBI’s lowest-level investigative step.

But Tuesday’s statement by the bureau appeared to be at odds with reports that Mr. Rahami’s father had suspected he was up to something and actually provided information directly to authorities at the time.

In a brief interview with The New York Times Tuesday, the father, Mohammad Rahami, said that at the time he told FBI agents about his concern, his son had just had a fight with another of his sons and stabbed the man, leading to a criminal investigation.

“Two years ago I go to the FBI because my son was doing really bad, OK?” he said. “But they check almost two months, they say, ‘He’s OK, he’s clean, he’s not a terrorist.’ I say OK.”

He added: “Now they say he is a terrorist. I say OK.”

Citing anonymous sources, ABC News reported that the father had told the FBI in 2014 that his son was interacting with “bad people” overseas.

The bombing suspect is alleged to have made visits to Pakistan and his native Afghanistan roughly during the same period of time.

The ABC News report said a dispute at the Rahami home brought local law enforcement to the house, and that a neighbor told them he’d overheard Mr. Rahami’s father calling his son a “terrorist.” The bombing suspect’s father later reportedly recanted his claims about his son.

Mr. Rahami subsequently was not placed on any U.S. terrorism watch lists.

Andrea Noble contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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