Police Connect New York, New Jersey Bombings, Seek Same Man For Questioning In Both

From the Washington Post:
NEW YORK – Authorities on Monday announced they are seeking 28-year-old Ahmad Khan Rahami in connection with two bombings Saturday — in Seaside Park, N.J., and in Manhattan — though the man’s role in the incidents remains unclear.

Rahami is a U.S. citizen of Afghan descent born in Afghanistan, according to the FBI. His last known address was in New Jersey, officials said.

Rahami is 5-feet-6-inches tall and weighs about 200 pounds, with brown hair, brown eyes and brown facial hair, according to the FBI. He should be considered armed and dangerous, the FBI said.

Law enforcement officials said they were investigating whether Rahami could have been influenced by international militant groups or the ongoing conflict in his homeland.

New Jersey State Police on Monday released several additional images of Rahami, including surveillance footage.

The announcement came after authorities took “a number of people” into custody in connection with the bombing, and their counterparts in New Jersey worked to render safe “multiple improvised explosive devices” discovered at a train station in Elizabeth just across from Staten Island.

Authorities have not yet confirmed any connections between the devices discovered in Elizabeth and earlier bombings on Saturday.

FBI agents also launched Monday morning what they termed an “operation” at an address on Elmora Avenue in Elizabeth, about a mile away from New Jersey Transit’s Elizabeth station. Court records show members of the Rahami family live and work at the address. A restaurant called “First American Fried Chicken” is also located on the ground floor of the same structure.

“They are going to be here for hours as they search every inch [of the apartment and restaurant],” Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage told NJ.com.

Court records show that several members of the Rahami family had owned and operated the fried chicken restaurant since 2002. It is unclear when Ahmad Rahami himself lived there or what role — if any — he had in the business.

In 2011, the Rahami family sued the City of Elizabeth and several police officers, alleging they had been inappropriately cited for keeping their business open past 10 p.m. and harassed by police.

They alleged a man in the neighborhood told them “you are Muslims” and “Muslims make too much trouble in this country” and complained unfairly to law enforcement, who singled them out “solely on animus against [their] religion, creed, race and national origin.”

In one instance, they alleged, two Rahami family members were actually arrested for attempting to record a conversation with officers.

The developments Monday sowed further concern about terrorism in the region and across the country. Police already had been investigating three weekend incidents — explosions in New York and New Jersey and a stabbing attack in Minnesota — that took place within a 12-hour period on Saturday.

Speaking to Good Morning America on Monday morning, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the investigation into the Chelsea bombing “is definitely leaning” in the direction of terrorism.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also said in an interview Monday morning, with CBS News, that “there may be a foreign connection” involving the bombing in Manhattan, though he did not elaborate on what that connection might be.

About 8:45 p.m. Sunday, the FBI and the New York Police Department stopped what the bureau’s New York field office called a “vehicle of interest” in the Manhattan bombing investigation, and took people into custody. As of early Monday, authorities said no one had been charged with a crime and the investigation was continuing.

An FBI spokeswoman, Kelly Langmesser, gave no further details on those detained. But the Associated Press, citing government and law enforcement officials, reported that five people were questioned.

Law enforcement also combed an area around an Elizabeth, N.J., train station where a backpack with “multiple improvised explosive devices” was found.

In Elizabeth, a port city near Newark International Airport, Mayor J. Christian Bollwage said that up to five devices were discovered inside a backpack, and one of the devices — found around 8:30 p.m. Sunday — exploded as it was being disarmed, shortly after 12:30 a.m. Monday. The New Jersey Transit rail system halted rail service near Newark Airport due to the police activity. Regular service was restored before dawn.

Amtrak announced its Acela Express Northeast Regional and other services would operate with schedule modifications Monday, and passengers should be prepared for delays and cancellations.

“This could take more hours than we thought initially” to disarm the other devices, Bollwage said. Bomb technicians from the FBI, as well as New Jersey law enforcement, were processing the scene. “I’m not sure if the morning commute will be easy,” Bollwage said.

Officials said they could identify no definitive links between the disturbances — the discovery of the devices in Elizabeth, the bombing that injured 29 in Chelsea, an explosion along the route of a scheduled race in Seaside Park, N.J., and a stabbing that wounded nine in a St. Cloud, Minn., mall.

Each incident in its own right raised the possibility of terrorist connections, prompting federal and local law enforcement to pour major resources into determining exactly what happened and why. Officials said they were looking aggressively for links in the New York and New Jersey cases.

A news agency linked to the Islamic State claimed Sunday that the suspect in Minnesota, who was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer, was “a soldier” of the militant group, though there was no confirmation of what connection the man may have had.

A claim of responsibility is no guarantee that the terrorist group directed or even inspired the attack, and authorities said they were still exploring a precise motive. The terrorist group made no similar claims about the New York and New Jersey incidents.

In New York, authorities said there was no evidence that the mysterious Saturday-night explosion was motivated by international terrorism, though they confirmed that the bombing was intentional.

“This is the nightmare scenario,” Cuomo (D) said.

Earlier Sunday, New York’s governor said nearly 1,000 police officers and National Guard troops would be sent to bus stops, train stations and airports, as investigators with the New York Police Department, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives worked to identify the person or people responsible for the explosion.

One law enforcement official said that while it was looking like the New Jersey and New York blasts “might be connected,” investigators still didn’t have any hard evidence. The official also said that only one of the three pipe bombs in New Jersey detonated.

Those injured in the Saturday-night blast in Chelsea had been released from hospitals by Sunday.

The Manhattan explosion occurred about 8:30 p.m. Saturday in the area of West 23rd Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, injuring 29 people as it hurled glass and debris into the air, officials said. Surveillance video showed passersby running to get away from the blast, and investigators said they would comb through that and older footage to try to identify those responsible.

Authorities said the explosion was produced by some type of bomb, and they posted on Twitter a photo of what appeared to be a mangled Dumpster or garbage container. Masum Chaudry, who manages a Domino’s Pizza near the scene, said the explosion “shook the whole building” and caused “total chaos.”

Cuomo said, “When you see the amount of damage, we really were very lucky there were no fatalities.”

A short time after the explosion, just a few blocks away, police found another potentially explosive device, which looked like a pressure cooker with wiring, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation. Pressure cookers were used in the two bombs detonated at the Boston Marathon in 2013.

The New York police said that this pressure-cooker-type device was first rendered safe at a Bronx facility. This device and materials from Seaside, N.J., were sent to the FBI’s lab in Quantico, Va., where they and the remnants of the device that exploded will be analyzed, authorities said.

Sara Miller, who was at a restaurant two blocks from the site of explosion, said she heard the blast, then saw people scrambling to get away. “I was here on September 11th so I thought, maybe, you know, I was being paranoid … but then I saw people running,” said Miller, 42. “It is a scary time because you never know when it will happen again.” [...]

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