Police capture immigrant sought in New York-area bombings

2016-09-19 18:07
Ahmad Khan Rahami (AP).

Ahmad Khan Rahami (AP).

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New York — An Afghan immigrant wanted for questioning in the bombings that rocked a New York City neighbourhood and a New Jersey shore town was taken into custody on Monday after a shootout with police in New Jersey, a law enforcement official said.

WABC-TV footage showed a man believed to be 28-year-old Ahmad Khan Rahami being loaded into an ambulance on a stretcher in Linden, New Jersey. He appeared to be conscious and looking around.

The law enforcement official, who was not authorised to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity, said two officers were shot in the gun battle.

The arrest came just hours after police issued a bulletin and photo of Rahami, a naturalised US citizen from Afghanistan with an address in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Authorities said the blasts were looking increasingly like an act of terrorism with a foreign connection.

Police did not disclose how they zeroed in on Rahami but were known to be poring over surveillance video. At the same time, five people who were pulled over in a vehicle on Sunday night were being questioned by the FBI, officials said.

The shootout came after a weekend of fear and dread in New York and New Jersey.

In addition to the blast that injured 29 people in Manhattan's Chelsea neighbourhood on Saturday, an unexploded pressure cooker bomb was found blocks away, and a pipe bomb exploded in a New Jersey shore town before a charity race. No one was injured there. On Sunday, five explosive devices were discovered in a trash can at an Elizabeth train station.

Also on Saturday, a man who authorities say referred to Allah wounded nine people in a stabbing rampage at a Minnesota mall before being shot to death by an off-duty police officer. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

Authorities have not drawn any connection between the violence in Minnesota and the bombings in the New York area.

Citing the FBI, New Jersey State Police said on Monday that the bombings in Chelsea and the New Jersey shore town Seaside Park were connected.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said as investigators gathered information, they learned there were "certain commonalities among the bombs," leading authorities to believe "that there was a common group behind the bombs".

Before Rahami's capture, Cuomo said investigators have no reason to believe there are further threats, but the public should "be on constant guard".

Early on Monday, FBI agents swarmed an apartment above a fried chicken restaurant in Elizabeth that is tied to Rahami. The Rahami family lives in the apartment.

The restaurant, First American Fried Chicken, is owned by Rahami's father and has also employed some of his brothers, Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage said.

He said Rahami's father and two brothers sued the city after it passed an ordinance requiring the restaurant to close early because of complaints from neighbours about it being a late-night nuisance.

Ryan McCann, of Elizabeth, said that he often ate at the restaurant and recently began seeing 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.

In the immediate aftermath of the New York bombing, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Cuomo were careful to say there was no evidence of a link to international terrorism. Both said on Monday that appeared to be changing.

"The more we learn with each passing hour is it looks more like terrorism," de Blasio said in an interview on NY1 News. Cuomo said on MSNBC: "Today's information suggests it may be foreign-related, but we'll see where it goes".

On Sunday night, FBI agents in Brooklyn stopped "a vehicle of interest" in the investigation of the Manhattan explosion, according to FBI spokesperson Kelly Langmesser.

She wouldn't provide further details, but a government official and a law enforcement official who were briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press that five people in the car were being questioned at an FBI building in Manhattan.

On Sunday, a federal law enforcement official said the Chelsea bomb contained a residue of Tannerite, an explosive often used for target practice that can be picked up in many sporting goods stores.

Cellphones were discovered at the site of both the New York and New Jersey bombings, but no Tannerite residue was identified in the New Jersey bomb remnants, in which a black powder was detected, said the official.

The pipe bomb that exploded on Saturday in Seaside Park went off before a charity 5km race to benefit Marines and sailors. The race was cancelled.

One of the five devices found at the Elizabeth train station exploded while a bomb squad robot tried to disarm it. No one was hurt.

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