Capture of 28-year-old Afghan-born US citizen comes after shootout with police
A 28-year-old Afghan-born US citizen was taken into custody on Monday in connection with weekend bombings in New York and New Jersey that returned terrorism to the centre stage of the US election campaign.
Ahmad Khan Rahami, whose last known address was in Elizabeth, New Jersey, was apprehended after a shootout in the neighbouring northern New Jersey community of Linden, according to the mayor of Elizabeth.
The city’s mayor, Christian Bollwage, said the suspect was shot and taken away in an ambulance. Two police were injured. One was shot in the hand while another officer was hit in his bulletproof vest, the mayor said. Television footage showed the suspect conscious and moving his head as he was taken away on a stretcher with a bandaged upper arm.
Investigators earlier had released a photograph of Mr Rahami and sent an unprecedented cell phone alert to millions of people in the New York area during the morning rush hour. Bill de Blasio, New York’s mayor, had warned that he could be armed and dangerous.
A terrorist attack in Manhattan could have important implications for the presidential election campaign, where Isis and the threat of Islamist terrorism have been dominant themes but where the risk of domestic terrorism has gone largely undiscussed.
Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, told Fox News police were hamstrung in preventing terrorism “because they don’t want to be accused of profiling”. He also tweeted: “Refugees from Syria over 10k plus more coming. Lots young males, poorly vetted.”
Hillary Clinton, Mr Trump’s Democratic rival, reiterated her plan for an “intelligence surge” in remarks to reporters: “I’ve been clear, we’re going after the bad guys and we’re going to get them,” she said: “But we’re not going to go after an entire religion and give ISIS exactly what it wants.”
President Barack Obama, in a press conference shortly before confirmation of Mr Rahami’s arrest, praised law enforcement officials and urged Americans “not to succumb” to the fear terrorists sought to instil.
Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor, suggested there may be an international connection to the attack after saying there was no evidence for such links on the weekend. “Today’s information suggests it may be foreign related, but we’ll see where it goes,” he said.
In Elizabeth on Monday morning, federal agents with sniffer dogs were inside First American Fried Chicken, a storefront with pictures of sandwiches in the windows. Under a pouring rain, state troopers guarded the perimeter of the scene.
The neighborhood in one of New Jersey’s biggest and oldest cities, a magnet for immigrants, is “peaceful,” said Nelly Costa, who has lived there 22 years. The blue awning of the chicken store is between a corner grocery and a shop providing phone cards and money transfers.
Andre Almeida, 24 years old, said he often bought cheese fries from First American. He called the chicken store “the munchie spot,” where people would go late at night after a night of partying. “If you needed to smoke at night, you’d come here and get something to roll with, your food, your fries.”
“You find out about this, and it’s really shocking,” he said. “You don’t expect someone who smiles at you one day to be doing all that crazy stuff on the side.”
Mr Rahami was apprehended after several suspicious devices were discovered on Sunday evening in a backpack in Elizabeth, New Jersey. One of the devices left in a rubbish bin near the entrance to the station exploded as a police robot was attempting to disarm it.
Mr Bollwage tweeted a picture from the scene of an FBI bomb squad shortly after midnight local time. The mayor said he was “not so sure” that Elizabeth was itself a terror target, and that it was “very possible” that someone was trying to get rid of devices destined for somewhere else as a result of heightened security measures.
Trains between Elizabeth and the nearby international airport at Newark, a popular transit point for visitors to New York, were suspended on Sunday evening. Investigators raided an apartment in the town on Monday morning.
New York City also remained on high alert following Saturday night’s bombing, which left 29 people injured. All were released from hospital on Sunday morning.
A law enforcement official said the New York explosion appeared to have come from a construction toolbox outside a building. Photos tweeted by the New York Police Department showed a dumpster truck that was apparently mangled by the explosion.
The explosion came just hours before President Barack Obama and other world leaders were due to gather in the city for annual meetings at the UN.
James O’Neill, New York police commissioner, said there would be a heavy police presence in public places this week. About 1,000 additional police and national guard have been deployed to the city and officials said there would be more random bag checks on public transport.
Authorities were investigating a potentially broader effort to disrupt the city after a second suspicious device was deactivated four blocks from the initial blast.
The FBI said on Sunday night that its investigation into the Chelsea bombing had resulted in a traffic stop in Brooklyn of a “vehicle of interest”, but that no charges had yet been brought. Several people travelling in the car were being questioned, according to the AP.
Hours before the explosion on Saturday night, a pipe bomb went off close to the route of a road race in Seaside Park, New Jersey. No injuries were reported, but the charity run was cancelled.
Mr Cuomo said it appeared that the two devices in Manhattan were “similar in design”, while the Seaside Park device was different. All were being tested by the FBI.
There was no claim of responsibility for the bombs, but a statement by Isis claiming a knife attack in a Minnesota mall on Saturday added to the sense of jitters.
The terror group’s Amaq news agency said a “soldier of the Islamic State” was behind the attack in the Crossroads Centre mall in St Cloud on Saturday, in which a man wearing a private security uniform stabbed eight people before being shot dead by an off-duty police officer.