Counterterrorism

Ahmad Rahami Charged in SDNY and New Jersey

By Nora Ellingsen
Wednesday, September 21, 2016, 3:17 PM

The Justice Department has now issued a press release on the charges leveled against Ahmad Khan Rahami for his suspected role in the bombings this past weekend in New York and New Jersey. With the glut of news available on Rahami's arrest and possible motives, it's useful to take a step back and review the information presented in the press release and the criminal complaints now filed against Rahami. 

According to the Justice Department, Rahami was charged yesterday in two complaints—one in the Southern District of New York, and the other in the District of New Jersey. Although slight variation in charges exist between the two complaints, Rahami is charged with use of weapons of mass destruction, bombing a place of public use, destruction of property by means of fire or explosive, and use of a destructive device during and in furtherance of a crime of violence.

On the morning of September 15th, a bomb exploded at 9:35 AM along the route for the Seaside Semper Five Marine Corps Charity 5K Race, near Seaside Part, New Jersey. The bomb was comprised of three connected pipe bombs, only one of which actually detonated, and a cell phone that functioned as a timer for the bomb.

Later that day, at 8:30 PM, a bomb detonated in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. The explosive components had been placed inside a pressure cooker and left inside a dumpster. A cell phone that functioned as a timer was found nearby. The bomb was packed with ball bearings and steel nuts, injuring approximately 31 people. Law enforcement also located a second, similar bomb that did not detonate, along with a cell phone timer, about four blocks away.

The next day, multiple bombs were found inside a backpack near the entrance to the New Jersey Transit station in Elizabeth, New Jersey. One of the devices detonated as law enforcement used a robot to try to defuse it. Law enforcement was able to recover the remaining devices in the backpack, along with handwritten notes.

In both complaints, the FBI lays out a variety of evidence to tie Rahami to all three sites: Rahami’s fingerprints were found on the materials in the backpack as well as on the second Chelsea bomb. Surveillance footage also shows Rahami walking near the Chelsea bomb sites shortly before and after the explosion of the first bomb. Some of the footage shows him wheeling a small suitcase before disappearing out of the camera’s view and returning without the luggage.

According to the government, Rahami purchased the bomb components online, under the eBay user name “ahmad rahimi” and shipped them to his place of work. The cell phones, which were used as timing devices, also tie Rahami to the blasts. One of the Chelsea cell phones was subscribed in the name of Rahami’s family member, and his home address was listed as the “user address.”

What the complaint does not contain are material support charges. Aside from the journal recovered from Rahami’s person after his arrest, terrorism is only briefly mentioned once throughout the complaint—an FBI review of one of Rahami’s social media accounts displayed a list of his favorite videos posted by other users. Two of those videos were nasheeds, or songs, related to jihad, including, “best jihad nasheed anthem” and “jihad is a martyr’s anthem.”

However, the motivation of the attack appears to be clear—following his arrest, law enforcement recovered a handwritten journal on Rahami’s person that included scribblings condemning the U.S. Government for their “slaughter against the mujahidean be it in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sham [Syria], [or] Palestine.” In the journal, he also expressed concern about being caught by law enforcement before he was able to carry out a suicide attack and praised Anwar al-Awlaki, Nidal Hasan, and Osama Bin Laden. The complaints do not provide any insight as to whether Rahami had any actual contact, be it in person or online, with members of terrorist organizations. Although less than a week after the attack, it’s more than likely that many unknowns remain not only for the general public, but also for the FBI.

The path forward for Rahami is also slightly murky. Following his arrest in Linden, New Jersey on September 19th, during which gunfire was exchanged, Rahami was admitted to a hospital in Newark, New Jersey, where he is presumably still being treated for gunshot wounds. As Bobby Chesney has discussed, questions will arise regarding Miranda and presentment. Yesterday, the Federal Defenders of New York submitted a letter to Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein, requesting that presentment be scheduled at the earliest possible time so that Rahami may have access to counsel. The Federal Defenders mention the possibility of a telephone or videoconference presentment, given the subject's medical condition.