LINDEN, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey police officer responding to a call about a hoodied vagrant curled up asleep in a bar doorway roused him and quickly recognized the bearded face of perhaps the most wanted man in America.
Ahmad Khan Rahami – identified in an FBI bulletin just hours earlier as a man wanted in the weekend bombings in New York City and New Jersey – pulled a gun, shot the officer (who was saved by his bulletproof vest) and triggered a running gun battle in the street that ended with Rahami wounded and in custody Monday, authorities said.
A bloodied Rahami was loaded into the back of an ambulance, just 50 hours after the first blast that started it all.
Rahami, 28, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Afghanistan who lived with his Muslim family in Elizabeth, New Jersey, underwent surgery for a gunshot wound to the leg as authorities began drawing up charges in a case that spread fear across the New York area and revived anxiety about homegrown terrorism.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said officials have every reason to believe the series of bombings “was an act of terror,” though investigators said Rahami’s exact motive isn’t yet clear.
With Rahami’s arrest, officials said they have no indication there are more bombs or suspects to find, though they cautioned that they are still investigating.
Still, after a whirlwind investigation that put Rahami in custody in just two days’ time, “I’m a lot happier today than I was yesterday,” New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill said.
The probe started when a pipe bomb blew up Saturday morning in Seaside Park, New Jersey, before a charity race to benefit Marines. No one was injured.
Then a shrapnel-packed pressure-cooker bomb similar to those used in the Boston Marathon attack exploded Saturday night in New York’s Chelsea section, wounding 29 people, none seriously. An unexploded pressure-cooker bomb was found blocks away.
Late Sunday night, five explosive devices were discovered in a trash can at an Elizabeth train station. Investigators said they are still gathering evidence and have not publicly tied Rahami to those devices.
Late Monday, a hospitalized Rahami was charged in New Jersey with five counts of attempted murder of police officers in connection with the shootout and was held on $5.2 million bail. Federal prosecutors said they were still weighing charges over the bombings.
It wasn’t known if Rahami had an attorney. Messages left for family members were not immediately returned.
Rahami lived with his family above their fried-chicken restaurant in Elizabeth, and his relatives have clashed with the city over closing times and noise complaints they said were tinged with anti-Muslim sentiment. A childhood friend, Flee Jones, said Rahami had become more religious after returning from a trip to Afghanistan several years ago.
An Associated Press reporter went to the building that houses the family’s restaurant and home, but it was cordoned off.
Rahami’s father, Mohammad, and two of Rahami’s brothers sued the city of Elizabeth in 2011 after it passed an ordinance requiring their restaurant, First American Fried Chicken, to close early because of complaints from neighbors that it was a late-night nuisance.
The Rahamis charged in the lawsuit that they were targeted by neighbors because they are Muslims. The lawsuit was terminated in 2012 after Mohammad Rahami pleaded guilty to blocking police from enforcing the restrictions on the restaurant.
Ryan McCann, of Elizabeth, said that he often ate at the restaurant and recently began seeing Ahmad 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.