Cops catch bomb­ing sus­pect

Shootout on N.J. street ends in­tense 2-day man­hunt

Baltimore Sun - - NATION - By Deepti Hajela and Jake Pear­son

LIN­DEN, N.J. — A New Jersey po­lice of­fi­cer re­spond­ing to a call about a va­grant curled up asleep in a bar door­way roused him and quickly rec­og­nized the face of per­haps the most wanted man in Amer­ica.

Ah­mad Khan Ra­hami — iden­ti­fied in an FBI bul­letin just hours ear­lier as a man wanted in the week­end bomb­ings in New York City and New Jersey — pulled out a gun, shot the of­fi­cer and trig­gered a run­ning gun bat­tle in the street that ended with Ra­hami wounded and in cus­tody Mon­day, au­thor­i­ties said.

A blood­ied Ra­hami was loaded into the back of an am­bu­lance, just 50 hours af­ter the first blast that started it all.

Ra­hami, 28, a nat­u­ral­ized U.S. ci­ti­zen from Afghanistan who lived with his fam­ily in El­iz­a­beth, un­der­went surgery for a gun­shot wound to the leg as au­thor­i­ties be­gan draw­ing up charges in a case that spread fear across the New York area and re­vived anx­i­ety about home­grown ter­ror­ism.

New York Mayor Bill de Bla­sio said of­fi­cials have ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve the se­ries of bomb­ings “was an act of ter­ror,” though in­ves­ti­ga­tors said Ra­hami’s ex­act mo­tive isn’t yet clear.

With Ra­hami’s ar­rest, of­fi­cials said they have no in­di­ca­tion there are more bombs or sus­pects to find, though they cau­tioned that they are still in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

Still, af­ter a whirl­wind in­ves­ti­ga­tion that put Ra­hami in cus­tody in just two days’ time, “I’m a lot hap­pier to­day than I was yes­ter­day,” New York City Po­lice Com­mis­sioner James Ah­mad Khan Ra­hami is taken into cus­tody af­ter he was wounded in a run­ning gun bat­tle Mon­day in Lin­den, N.J. O’Neill said.

The probe started when a pipe bomb blew up Satur­day morn­ing in Sea­side Park be­fore a char­ity race to ben­e­fit Marines. No one was in­jured.

Then a shrap­nel-packed pres­sure-cooker bomb sim­i­lar to those used in the Bos­ton Marathon at­tack ex­ploded Satur­day night in New York’s Chelsea area, wound­ing 29 peo­ple, none se­ri­ously. An un­ex­ploded pres­sure-cooker bomb was found a few blocks away.

Late Sun­day night, five ex­plo­sive de­vices were dis­cov­ered in a trash can at an El­iz­a­beth train sta­tion. In­ves­ti­ga­tors said they are still gath­er­ing ev­i­dence and have not pub­licly tied Ra­hami to those de­vices.

Late Mon­day, a hos­pi­tal­ized Ra­hami was charged in NewJersey with five counts of at­tempted mur­der of po­lice of­fi­cers in con­nec- tion with the shootout and was held on $5.2 mil­lion bail. Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors said they are weigh­ing charges over the bomb­ings.

It wasn’t known if Ra­hami had an at­tor­ney.

Ra­hami lived with his fam­ily above their fried­chicken res­tau­rant in El­iz­a­beth, and his rel­a­tives have clashed with the city over clos­ing times and noise com­plaints they said were tinged with anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment. A child­hood friend, Flee Jones, said Ra­hami had be­come more re­li­gious af­ter re­turn­ing from a trip to Afghanistan sev­eral years ago.

But Wil­liam Sweeney, the FBI’s as­sis­tant di­rec­tor in New York, said there were no in­di­ca­tions Ra­hami was on law en­force­ment’s radar at the time of the bomb­ings.

Au­thor­i­ties ze­roed in on him as the po­ten­tial bomber af­ter a fin­ger­print and DNA lifted from one of the New York sites and “clear as day” sur­veil­lance video from the bomb­ing scene helped iden­tify him, ac­cord­ing to three law en­force­ment of­fi­cials who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the case.

Five peo­ple were pulled over Sun­day night in a ve­hi­cle as­so­ci­ated with Ra­hami but were ques­tioned and re­leased, Sweeney said, de­clin­ing to say whether they might later face charges. The law en­force­ment of­fi­cials said at least one of Ra­hami’s rel­a­tives was in the car, which ap­peared headed to­ward Kennedy Air­port in New York af­ter com­ing from New Jersey.

Lin­den Mayor Derek Arm­stead said the break in the case came late Mon­day morn­ing, when a bar owner re­ported some­one asleep in his door­way.

Af­ter an of­fi­cer ar­rived and rec­og­nized Ra­hami, Ra­hami shot the of­fi­cer, who was saved by his bul­let­proof vest, au­thor­i­ties said. More of­fi­cers joined in a gun bat­tle that spilled into the street.

An­other po­lice of­fi­cer was grazed by a bul­let. Au­thor­i­ties said nei­ther of­fi­cer’s in­juries were lifethreat­en­ing.

The Coun­cil on Amer­i­can-Is­lamic Re­la­tions, a na­tional Mus­lim ad­vo­cacy group, wel­comed Ra­hami’s ar­rest. The or­ga­ni­za­tion and the Afghan Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton con­demned the bomb­ings.

Around the time Ra­hami was cap­tured, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was in New York for a meet­ing of the U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly. He called on Amer­i­cans to show the world “we will never give in to fear.”

Ryan McCann, of El­iz­a­beth, said he of­ten ate at the Ra­hamis’ res­tau­rant and re­cently be­gan see­ing Ah­mad Ra­hami work­ing there more.

“He’s al­ways in there. He’s a very friendly guy, that’s what’s so scary. It’s hard when it’s home,” McCann said.

NI­CO­LAUS CZARNECKI/BOS­TON HERALD

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