Police seek two witnesses over New York bomb blast

Narrow escape for two men who found the suitcase in which the pressure-cooker bomb was hidden.
This video grab provided by the FBI shows two unidentified men walking in New York’s Chelsea district on September 17, 2016, around the time a bomb exploded on a nearby street. Investigators said the men are being sought as witnesses. FBI via AP
This video grab provided by the FBI shows two unidentified men walking in New York’s Chelsea district on September 17, 2016, around the time a bomb exploded on a nearby street. Investigators said the men are being sought as witnesses. FBI via AP

NEW YORK // Investigators of last weekend’s bombings in New York and New Jersey have released an image of two men who took a suitcase they found on a city street, possibly without realising a wired pressure cooker they removed from it and left behind could have blown them to bits.

Police stress they want to interview the men as potential witnesses, not as suspects.

“They’re not in any jeopardy of being arrested,” said Jim Watters, chief of the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism unit. “We have no reason to believe they’re connected.”

Federal prosecutors have charged Ahmad Khan Rahami with detonating a pipe bomb in a New Jersey shore town last Saturday morning and a pressure cooker bomb in New York City’s Chelsea neighbourhood later that night. Thirty-one people were injured in the New York blast. A second pressure cooker bomb left in Manhattan did not explode and is the subject of the latest public plea.

His wife of five years, Asia Bibi Rahami, has given a statement to the US embassy in the UAE after being intercepted there, apparently on her way to her native-Pakistan with her two children by Rahami.

Surveillance video shows Rahami rolling a suitcase down the street, then abandoning it on the pavement at the spot where the pressure cooker device was found.

A few minutes later, two men pass by the luggage and appear to admire it, police said. They then remove a pressure cooker from the luggage, leave it on the pavement and walk away with the suitcase.

“I think they were more interested in the bag, not what they were taking out,” Watters said, adding that they were “very, very lucky” the bomb didn’t explode.

In court papers, a public defender sought a court appearance for Rahami, an Afghan-born naturalised US citizen, so he can hear the federal terrorism charges against him, even if it had to be from his hospital bed, where he is recovering after being shot by the police. The request was denied.

Rahami, 28, was arrested on Monday following a shoot-out with police in Linden, New Jersey. He is being held on $5.2 million bail, and faces state charges of attempted murder of police officers. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Rahami will be moved to New York to face federal charges in the “near future.”

According to documents filed in New York, Rahami allegedly sourced some components for bomb-making from eBay but made little effort to cover his tracks. Ball bearings and electric igniters commonly associated with home-made explosives were ordered using his own name and workplace address. Last weekend’s bomb in Manhattan was powerful enough to send a heavy steel skip hurtling 35 metres into the air. The explosion shattered windows 120 metres away and pieces of the bomb were recovered almost 200 metres away.

In a bloodstained journal recovered by investigators, Rahami wrote “Death to your oppression” and made references to Osama bin Laden, the American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki — who was nicknamed the ”Bin Laden of the internet” for his prolific use of social media — and former Army officer Nidal Hasan, who went on a shooting rampage in Ford Hood, Texas.

After arriving in the US in 1995, where his family claimed asylum, Rahami grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where his father ran a fast-food restaurant. He is known to have visited Pakistan and Afghanistan for long periods in the last five years. As well as the two children by his wife, Rahami also has a child by a high school girlfriend.

Rahami is also suspected of planting pipe bombs last Sunday in a rucksack which he stuffed into a rubbish bin near a train station in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The rucksack was fished out by homeless Lee Parker, who had no idea what it contained. “I don’t like to think about what could have happened, but I’m just so blessed and glad it didn’t,” he said.

* Associated Press

Published: September 22, 2016 04:00 AM

SHARE

Editor's Picks
NEWSLETTERS
Sign up to:

* Please select one

Most Read