DOJ Unseals Criminal Complaint Against Ahmad Khan Rahami

Sep 21, 2016
Originally published on September 21, 2016 8:02 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We know more this morning about the planning and inspiration of attacks on New York and New Jersey. The Justice Department unsealed a criminal complaint against Ahmad Khan Rahami last night.

And NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston has been reading as well as talking with her sources. Good morning, Dina.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What evidence do the prosecutors say they have?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the most striking thing that they have is they have a video. The criminal complaint says that two days before the Manhattan bombing in Chelsea, Rahami recorded a video of himself setting off an explosive device in the backyard of his house in Elizabeth, N.J.

And apparently after he lit the fuse, the complaint says, the video shows there's billowing smoke. You can hear laughter. And then Rahami comes into the camera frame and picks up the device.

INSKEEP: Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. So he set a fuse for some kind of explosion in his backyard, and then the device didn't go off? That's what the video shows?

TEMPLE-RASTON: No. Well, there's billow - what we know is there's billowing smoke, and there's laughter. So one assumes actually that something did go off.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, it's still kind of baffling, like, if you actually had a device that worked, you'd have an explosion in your backyard. He didn't seem to be worried about that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Apparently not, no.

INSKEEP: OK. All right. We haven't actually seen the video, but this is the description. Now, how did he allegedly gather the bomb-making materials for these attacks?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the criminal complaint says he had an Ebay account. And allegedly he started buying these materials to make explosive devices back in June. He - his user name on the account was Ahmad Rahami, so his real name.

INSKEEP: OK.

TEMPLE-RASTON: So there wasn't a lot of operational security here. And he allegedly bought citric acid, which is a precursor chemical for explosives. He bought circuit boards and igniters for fireworks. He bought ball bearings. And these were the precise components, the complaint alleges, that were later found in the explosive devices discovered in New York and New Jersey. And this...

INSKEEP: And a quick reminder that all these things are just ordinary items that people could buy for perfectly reasonable uses. But they can also be used to assemble an explosive device.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. And he also bought cellphones, which were used as timers in the devices. And the complaint says that these were all bought at one store in New Jersey.

And in the complaint, it says all these things were shipped to a New Jersey business called Perth Amboy, which is where Rahami worked, the complaint says, until about September 12.

INSKEEP: What do authorities believe the suspect's inspiration was?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they believe his inspiration had something to do with Islamic terrorism. He had a journal when he was arrested on Monday morning. And that diary described in the criminal complaint was rambling. And he talks about Osama bin Laden and the Boston Marathon bombers.

And, in fact, what he wrote sounds a lot like what the youngest Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, wrote inside that boat in Boston when they captured him several years ago.

He basically said that the U.S. was killing mujahedeen in Syria and in Iraq and in Afghanistan and that because he couldn't travel somewhere, he felt he needed to do something here.

We don't know if there's any connection to a particular terrorist group. But clearly his inspiration was along those lines.

INSKEEP: You saw similarities in the actual explosive devices to the Boston Marathon bombing. And now you're seeing similarities in the motivations?

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's exactly right.

INSKEEP: OK, Dina, thanks very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.