LINDEN, N.J. (Reuters) - Police on Monday arrested an Afghanistan-born American who they suspect of detonating a bomb in the heart of New York City and planting other devices, capturing the 28-year-old in a dramatic gun battle that wounded him and two officers.
Officials did not offer any information on the possible motives of Ahmad Khan Rahami and said they were not looking for other suspects. New York’s mayor called the bombing that injured 29 people in the bustling Chelsea district “an act of terror.”
Police in Linden, New Jersey, swooped in on Rahami just hours after authorities publicly identified him as the prime suspect in the Saturday night blast and sent out an alert to millions of mobile phone users.
Authorities suspect Rahami, who lived in the neighbouring city of Elizabeth, was also behind 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.The bombings and subsequent manhunt prompted even greater security in America’s biggest city, already on high alert for the gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in New York for the annual General Assembly this week. An additional 1,000 officers were deployed.
While officials did not give much information about Rahami, CNN, citing unnamed law enforcement sources, reported that Rahami travelled multiple times to Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years, including a year-long stay in Pakistan until March 2014. Police were looking into whether he was radicalized overseas, CNN said.
The blasts, the manhunt and an apparently unrelated stabbing attack in Minnesota over the weekend recalled the tension of other recent attacks, such as the mass shootings in Orlando and San Bernardino, California.
The events also felled the debate about America’s security challenges seven weeks before the presidential election, with candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton clashing once again on Monday.
Police in Linden were responding to a complaint by a bar owner of a man sleeping in the closed establishment’s entranceway.
“The officer realized that this might be the person that the FBI was looking for. The officer then said, ‘show me your hands,’ and the person went to the side of his body and pulled out a handgun and fired a round at the officer, striking him in the abdomen. Fortunately the officer had his bulletproof vest on,” Linden Police Captain James Sarnicki told reporters.
Rahami indiscriminately opened fired on police, officials said, injuring another officer with broken auto glass that struck his forehead.
Police fired back, wounding Rahami in the arm and leg. Eyewitness video showed Rahami handcuffed in a gurney, his wounds bandaged, before he was taken to hospital for surgery. His condition was not considered life threatening, police said.
Focusing just on the shootout, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office charged Rahami with five counts of attempted murder in the first degree and two second-degree weapons charges, spokesman Mark Spivey said.
More charges were likely in federal court but Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, said authorities would take their time.
Rahami had not previously been identified as dangerous but his family was known to police as a result of late-night noise and crowd complaints at a family halal chicken restaurant in Elizabeth.
“This is a criminal, sick act and it’s an idea that is coming from abroad and spilling over into the youth and this demon rage,” said Salaam Ismial, a social worker at Masjid Al-Hadi, a mosque in Elizabeth, and who said he knew Rahami.
“A rightful Muslim would denounce this violence. The Koran is very clear on this.”
Investigators said they had not yet determined a motive for the bombings and there was no indication that an extremist cell was operating in the area, William Sweeney of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York division told a news conference.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who spoke by phone with some of the officers involved in the arrest, praised police for the quick apprehension and said he saw no connection between the explosions and a separate weekend incident where a man stabbed nine people at a mall in central Minnesota before being shot dead.
The Minnesota attacker was described a “soldier of the Islamic State,” the militant group’s news agency said.
Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, Julia Edwards, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Roberta Rampton and Hilary Russ in New York; and Roselle Chen in Linden, New Jersey.; Writing Daniel Trotta; Editing by Alan Crosby and Mary Milliken