The father of the Afghan-born man arrested after weekend bombings in New York and New Jersey reported concerns about his son to the FBI in 2014, but officials took no action after reviewing the complaint, the father and law enforcement officials said on Tuesday.
U.S. authorities were investigating whether Ahmad Khan Rahami, the naturalized American citizen captured on Monday in New Jersey after a shootout with police, had accomplices in the bombings or if he was radicalised during trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“The investigation is active and ongoing, and it is being investigated as an act of terror,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in Lexington, Kentucky.
Rahami, 28, was suspected in the weekend bombings, including a blast on Saturday night in New York City’s crowded Chelsea neighbourhood that wounded 29 people, and two in suburban New Jersey including one earlier on Saturday near a Marine Corps charity run in Seaside Park that caused no injuries.
His father, Mohammad Rahami, briefly emerged on Tuesday from the family’s restaurant in Elizabeth, New Jersey, telling reporters, “I called the FBI two years ago.”
A U.S. law enforcement official confirmed the elder Rahami had twice met with the FBI, first saying that he was worried his son was hanging out with people who might have connections to militants, but two weeks later contending his real concern was that the son was associating with criminals.
The FBI tried to check out the father’s story, and conducted what officials now describe as an “assessment” of that information. Investigators found no evidence to prompt a full-scale investigation into the son, and the initial investigation was closed without action, the law enforcement official said.
Another law enforcement official said the father “recanted the whole story.” At the time, the son was being held on an assault charge for stabbing his brother during a domestic dispute, the official said.
The comments by the officials showed that Rahami was on the radar of U.S. law enforcement authorities before the bombings, as have others who have carried out other attacks in the United States in recent years.
For example, the FBI’s Miami office had investigated Omar Mateen, the man who killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando in June and expressed allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State organization, for 10 months and interviewed him twice but found no evidence of a crime or connection with a militant group.
Rahami was arrested on Monday in Linden, New Jersey, not far from Elizabeth, where his family lived above their storefront First American Fried Chicken restaurant. The family was known to local authorities for frequent disputes related to the restaurant, which had received noise complaints for staying open very late into the night.
The bombings put New York on edge and fuelled a political debate about U.S. security seven weeks before the presidential election, with candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton again clashing on the threat posed by Islamic militants.
The bombings and subsequent manhunt prompted even greater security in New York, a city already on high alert for this week’s gathering of world leaders at the United Nations for the annual General Assembly. An additional 1,000 officers were deployed.
Two U.S. officials said Rahami had a small notebook on him when he was apprehended, which one of the officials said contained “ideological” musings.
The notebook contained references to killing non believers and mentioned American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a leading al Qaeda propagandist who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011, the New York Times reported, citing unnamed sources.
Two U.S. officials said Rahami had travelled to Afghanistan and to Quetta, Pakistan. The official, and other U.S. security sources, said Rahami underwent additional security screening upon returning from abroad but passed on every occasion. One of the officials, who specializes in counter-terrorism, said the “secondary” screening included asking Rahami where he had gone and for what purpose.
Rahami’s wife left the United States a few days before the bombings, CNN reported, citing a law enforcement source.
Rahami had emailed U.S. Representative Albio Sires of New Jersey, whose congressional district includes Elizabeth, in 2014 from Pakistan, raising concerns about his wife’s visa issues, said Mark Gyorfy, a spokesman for the congressman.
Prosecutors in Union County, New Jersey have charged Rahami with five counts of attempted first-degree murder and two second-degree weapons counts. More charges were expected to be brought against Rahami in federal court.
Rahami and two police officers were wounded in the exchange of gunfire before his arrest.
He was listed in critical but stable condition, and police had not yet been able to interview him in depth, New York Police Department Commissioner James O’Neill said.
Rahami is also suspected of planting a bomb that exploded on the New Jersey shore on Saturday, a device found near the New York blast, and up to six more devices found near the Elizabeth train station on Sunday night.
All of the people injured in Saturday night’s blast in Manhattan have been released from hospitals.