NEW YORK — Ahmad Khan Rahami vowed to martyr himself rather than be caught after setting off explosives in New York and New Jersey, and he’d hoped in a handwritten journal championing jihad that "the sounds of bombs will be heard in the streets," authorities said Tuesday as they filed federal charges against him.
Criminal complaints in Manhattan and New Jersey federal courts provided chilling descriptions of the motivations that authorities said drove the Afghan-born U.S. citizen to set off explosives in New York and New Jersey, including a bomb that injured more than two dozen people when it blew up on a busy Manhattan street.
Meanwhile, more details emerged Tuesday about Rahami’s past, including the disclosure that the FBI had looked into him in 2014 but came up with nothing.
According to the court complaint, Rahami’s journal included a passage that said: "You (USA Government) continue your (unintelligible) slaught(er)" against the mujahideen, or holy warriors, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
"Death to your oppression," the journal ended.
One portion expressed concern at the prospect of being caught before being able to carry out a suicide attack and the desire to be a martyr, the complaint said. Still another section included a reference to "pipe bombs" and a "pressure cooker bomb" and declared: "In the streets they plan to run a mile," an apparent reference to one of the blast sites, a charity run in a New Jersey shore town.
There also were laudatory references to Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki — the American-born Muslim cleric who was killed in a 2011 drone strike and whose preaching has inspired other acts of violence — and Nidal Hasan, the former Army officer who went on a deadly shooting rampage in 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas, the complaint said.
Before the federal charges were filed, Rahmani, 28, was already being held on $5.2 million bail, charged with the attempted murder of police officers during the shootout that led to his capture Monday outside a bar in Linden, New Jersey.
Rahmani remains hospitalized with gunshot wounds. It wasn’t immediately clear whether he had a lawyer who could comment on the charges.
The court complaint describes Rahami buying bomb-making equipment so openly that he ordered citric acid, ball bearings and electronic igniters on eBay and had them delivered to a Perth Amboy, New Jersey, business where he worked until earlier this month.
Video recorded two days before the bombings and recovered from a family member’s phone shows him igniting incendiary material in a cylinder, then shows the fuse being lighted, a loud noise and flames, followed by billowing smoke and laughter, the complaint said.
Federal agents would like to question Rahami. But Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., who received a classified briefing from the FBI, said Rahami was not cooperating; that could also be a reflection of his injuries.
Investigators are looking into Rahami’s overseas travel, including a visit to Pakistan a few years ago, and want to know whether he received any money or training from extremist organizations.
In 2014, the FBI opened up an "assessment," the least intrusive form of an FBI inquiry, based on comments from his father after a domestic dispute, the bureau said in a statement.
"The FBI conducted internal database reviews, interagency checks and multiple interviews, none of which revealed ties to terrorism," the bureau said.
A law enforcement official said the FBI spoke with Rahami’s father in 2014 after agents learned of his concerns that the son could be a terrorist. During the inquiry, the father backed away from talk of terrorism and told investigators that he simply meant his son was hanging out with the wrong crowd, according to the official, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Rahami’s father told reporters Tuesday outside the family’s fried-chicken restaurant in Elizabeth, New Jersey, that he called the FBI at the time because Rahami "was doing real bad," having stabbed the brother and hit his mother. Rahami was not prosecuted in the stabbing; a grand jury declined to indict him.
"But they checked, almost two months, and they say, ‘He’s OK, he’s clear, he’s not terrorist.’ Now they say he’s a terrorist," the father said. Asked whether he thought his son was a terrorist, he said: "No. And the FBI, they know that."
The disclosure of the father’s contacts with the FBI raises questions about whether there was anything more law enforcement could have done at the time to determine whether Rahami had terrorist aspirations.
That issue arose after the Orlando massacre in June, when FBI Director James Comey said agents a few years earlier had looked into the gunman, Omar Mateen, but did not find enough information to pursue charges or keep him under investigation.
Asked Tuesday about Rahami, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama "is confident that the Department of Justice and the FBI will go back and review the interactions that this individual had with law enforcement to determine if there’s something different that could have been done or should have been done to prevent the violence that we saw over the weekend."
As for whether Obama was concerned that the 2014 FBI inquiry had been closed after finding no terror ties, Earnest noted Rahami’s rights as a U.S. citizen.
Rahami worked as an unarmed night guard for two months in 2011 at an AP administrative technology office in Cranbury, New Jersey. At the time, he was employed by Summit Security, a private contractor.
AP global security chief Danny Spriggs said he learned this week that Rahami worked there and often engaged colleagues in long political discussions, expressing sympathy for the Taliban and disdain for U.S. military action in Afghanistan. Rahami left that job in 2011 because he wanted to take a trip to Afghanistan, Spriggs said.
AP spokesman Paul Colford said the AP told law enforcement officials about Rahami’s work at the Cranbury facility.
Summit’s vice president of security services, Daniel Sepulveda, said Rahami last worked for the company in 2011. Sepulveda said he was unaware of any complaints about Rahami’s conduct.
William Sweeney, the FBI’s assistant director in New York, said on Monday that that at the time of the bombing, Rahami was apparently not on the FBI’s radar. Nor were Afghan intelligence officials aware of either Rahami or his family, said Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, director-general of the Afghan National Directorate of Security.
The bombing investigation began when a pipe bomb blew up Saturday morning in Seaside Park, New Jersey, before a charity race to benefit Marines. No one was injured. Then a shrapnel-packed pressure-cooker bomb exploded Saturday night in New York’s Chelsea section, wounding 31 people, none seriously. An unexploded pressure-cooker bomb was found blocks away — with Rahami’s fingerprints on it and his face captured by a nearby surveillance camera, according to the court complaint.
Late Sunday night, five explosive devices were discovered in a trash can at an Elizabeth train station.