ELIZABETH, New Jersey — Ahmad Khan Rahami, the man arrested for this weekend’s series of bombings in New York and New Jersey, had traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan several times without detection by the U.S. government, officials told The Daily Beast.
Rahami’s travels and time spent in Pakistan are the subject of intense scrutiny by U.S. investigators who are now trying to determine whether the suspect became radicalized during his travel and what connections, if any, he may have had to foreign terrorist organizations or militants.
Rahami has made at least three and possibly four trips to Pakistan over the past 10 years, one official said. It’s not clear where he traveled within the country and particularly if he spent time in areas near the border with Afghanistan that have been the frequent target of U.S. drone strikes aimed at terrorist groups.
Rahami’s father also was in Pakistan as recently as July 2011, according to the family’s attorney, who informed a judge in a civil suit to which the elder Rahami was a plaintiff that he was not expected back in the country in time for a court proceeding the following month.
In September 2011, the lawyer informed the judge that while the father had returned, his “family is in Afghanistan” but was expected to return within days.
A senior U.S. official told The Daily Beast that Rahami’s oldest brother is in Pakistan now.
Two U.S. officials told The Daily Beast that Rahami was not on any U.S. government terrorist watch lists. Had he been, it’s possible that federal authorities would have been alerted if Rahami traveled outside the United States.
U.S. Rep. Albio Sires told the Bergen Record that Rahami contacted his office via email in 2014 seeking an immigrant visa for his wife in Pakistan who was 35 weeks pregnant and whose Pakistani passport had expired.
Rahami came to the U.S. as a child in 1995 as the son of an Afghan asylum seeker, a U.S. official told The Daily Beast. There has been some confusion over when Rahami or his family were officially granted legal residency in the country, but it may have taken some time for their application to be processed and approved.
Rahimi had a series of escalating run-ins with the law beginning in 2008, when he spent a day in jail for unpaid parking tickets, and another in 2012 after he allegedly violated a restraining order, The New York Times reports. In 2014, Rahami spent three days in jail on weapons and aggravated assault charges, after allegedly stabbing a person in the leg, The New York Times reports. A grand jury dropped Rahami’s charges for the fight, which allegedly began as a domestic dispute.
The hunt for a New York-area bomber began Saturday morning when a set of pipe bombs exploded at a 5K race in New Jersey. The search escalated following a large explosion that injured 29 people in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood Saturday night.
The 28-year-old was found sleeping in the doorway of a bar in Linden, New Jersey, by a police officer late Monday morning. When he was awakened, Rahami allegedly shot the officer, who returned fire. The arrest came hours after police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Rahami’s family residence in the neighboring city of Elizabeth.
Five people were brought out of the house during a 3 a.m. raid, according to time-stamped cellphone footage reviewed by The Daily Beast. The video, taken by a neighbor across the street, shows heavily armed officers at the family’s Elizabeth home waiting for family members to come out, one by one. Two of Rahami’s brothers came out first, followed by a woman and a young child. The father came out last, the neighbor said.
A Perth Amboy address linked to Ahmad Rahami and brother Mohammad Khan Rahami was subject to loud banging at 3 a.m., a neighbor told The Daily Beast. Police later confirmed they had investigated a Perth Amboy address. Maintenance workers were changing locks on the front door late Monday morning.
The neighbor told The Daily Beast in Spanish that a woman who wore a hijab had lived there before. She had never seen Ahmad Rahami before, however. She clutched her arms and shouted “Oh my God” repeatedly when these reporters told her the address was linked to him.
A law-enforcement official told The Daily Beast that a fingerprint taken from a second unexploded device on West 27th Street identified Rahami as the suspect and was corroborated by surveillance footage taken there and at West 23rd Street, where the first bomb exploded.
No other suspects or persons of interest have been named so far. Authorities at a Monday press conference said they have no reason to believe there is a terrorist cell.
The explosive devices track closely to what was suggested in al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine in an article titled, “Make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom.” The guide was written by Samir Khan, a U.S. citizen born in Saudi Arabia who fled to Yemen to join Anwar al-Awlaki, an American cleric turned al Qaeda propagandist.
Khan advised aspiring bomb-makers to make pipe bombs and link them together for greater effect, just as Rahami is alleged to have done at two sites in New Jersey. Khan advised building larger bombs using pressure cookers.
Rahami’s motive is not yet known. However, one of Rahami’s brothers, Mohammad K. Rahami, posted a jihadi message to Facebook in 2013.
“I bring the men who desire death as ardently as you desire life,” the image made by Ansar Al-Furquan read. The quote is from a companion of the Prophet Muhammad.
In April 2013, Mohammad posted a photo of himself with a man identified as Ahmad in a comment. The two men are sitting outside, grilling kebabs.
Authorities have not named either brother as suspects or persons of interest.
A New Jersey neighbor of the family told The New York Times that one of Ahmad Rahami’s brothers went to Afghanistan following a fight with a police officer. A civil discrimination suit filed by the Rahami family against the city of Elizabeth in 2011 cites Mohammad K. Rahami’s arrest.
The Rahami brothers’ father claimed in the lawsuit that city officials harassed him at his business, First American Fried Chicken, with unnecessary citations and summonses. The court documents state that city officials forced the restaurant to close at 10 p.m. every night, while similar neighborhood restaurants were allowed to stay open later.
The lawsuit also claimed the family was the target of anti-Muslim sentiment from neighbors and officials, including one neighbor who allegedly complained to police that “Muslims make too much trouble in this country” and that “Muslims should not have businesses here.”
Neighbors and classmates of the Rahamis waited outside the yellow police tape cordoning off the family’s fried chicken shop on Elmore Avenue in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Patrons and public records say the family appears to have five sons and three daughters. Two of the children are minors. The status of their mother is unknown, the customers said.
A 60-year-old musician, who would only identify himself as Jacob, said he’s known Ahmad Rahami’s father for more than 14 years. They met when the dad worked at a restaurant in Irvington, he said.
“When I met them [the Rahami siblings], they were kids. But lately they’ve been holding down the store,” Jacob told The Daily Beast, as he watched police work the scene. “They seemed like normal people.”
The longtime neighbor called Ahmad Rahami’s father, Mohammad, a “pretty decent, guy” and “real quiet and laid back.”
The dad talked of visiting Afghanistan on vacations and would hook Jacob up with turkey sandwiches and gyros, he said.
“He was cool. I’m just sorry that this happened to him,” he said.
Saul Asian, 21, a classmate of a younger Rahimi brother, also watched the scene unfold on Monday evening.
Asian described the Rahimi chicken spot as a hangout for middle-schoolers of the nearby Abraham Lincoln School. He used to see Ahmad work as a cashier.
“I didn’t want to believe it... until I saw it on the news,” Asian said of Ahmad’s arrest.
Rahami was arrested several miles away from where he grew up after a gunfight witnessed by a woman who only gave her name as Amy.
“I was in my bedroom, I heard boomp boomp boomp boomp,” she told The Daily Beast. “I was just on the phone talkin’ to my friend, she was like, ‘Be careful ’cause you know the bombings in Elizabeth and everything like that.’
“So I jumped up and I went, when I looked out the window, I seen the police running by with guns.”
Authorities said Rahami was shot in the arm and leg before he was handcuffed on a stretcher and taken to the hospital.
On Monday evening, Rahami was charged with five counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.
—with additional reporting by Michael Daly, Kelly Weill, and Amelia Warshaw