U.S. authorities investigated on Wednesday whether anyone helped an Afghan-born American citizen charged with carrying out bombings in New York and New Jersey, while the city’s top federal public defender asked for access to the suspect.
Police in New York City also said they had not yet been cleared to speak to Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, who was arrested on Monday after a gunfight with police in Linden, New Jersey. He has been charged with wounding 31 people in a bombing in New York on Saturday that authorities regard as an act of terror.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation released a photo of two men who found a second, unexploded device they say Rahami left in a piece of luggage in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood on Saturday night.
The two men, who took the bag but left the bomb on the street, are not suspects, officials said, adding that investigators want to interview them as witnesses.
“As far as whether he’s a lone actor, that’s still the path we are following but we are keeping all the options open,” William Sweeney, the FBI’s assistant director in New York, told a news conference.
Rahami is also charged with planting a bomb that went off in Seaside Park, New Jersey, but did not injure anyone. He also faces charges for planting explosive devices in his hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, which did not detonate. He faces charges from federal prosecutors in both states, with New York up first.
Federal prosecutors portrayed Rahami, who came to the United States at age 7 and became a naturalized citizen, as embracing militant Islamic views, begging for martyrdom and expressing outrage at the U.S. “slaughter” of Muslim fighters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Palestine.
Federal investigators were also probing Rahami’s history of travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and looking for any evidence that he may have picked up radical views or trained in bomb-making on those trips. They still are trying to find out whether he received any help in planning his attack or building the bombs.
Both government and pro-Taliban sources in Pakistan on Wednesday said they had no knowledge of Rahami having met with prominent people connected to the Taliban or other religious groups.
MEDICAL CONDITION AT ISSUE
Prosecutors plan to move Rahami to New York in the near future, from the Newark, New Jersey hospital where he is being treated for wounds sustained in the gunfight, once his medical condition allows, said Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.
Rahami’s wife met with U.S. law enforcement officials while in the United Arab Emirates and voluntarily gave a statement, a law enforcement official said on Wednesday. She was not in custody, the official said.
A New Jersey U.S. congressman previously said Rahami had emailed his office in 2014 for help in getting her a visa to enter the United States from Pakistan when she was pregnant.
Rahami’s defense attorney, David Patton, on Wednesday asked for his first court appearance to be scheduled as soon as possible, even if it occurs in his hospital bed.
“He has been held and questioned by federal law enforcement agents since his arrest,” Patton, head of the New York City federal public defenders office, said in a court filing. “The Sixth Amendment (of the U.S. Constitution) requires that he be given access to counsel on the federal charges, and that he be presented without delay.”
New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill told a news conference that investigators had not yet received doctors’ clearance to interview Rahami, adding, “That may happen in the next 24 hours, pending the doctors’ approval.”
Federal prosecutors in New York noted that while they filed charges against Rahami on Tuesday, he remains in the custody of state officials in New Jersey, who initially arrested him after Monday’s gunfight. They said that makes Patton’s request for access premature.
The attacks in New York and New Jersey were the latest in a series in the United States inspired by Islamic militant groups including al Qaeda and Islamic State. A pair of ethnic Chechen brothers killed three people and injured more than 260 at the 2013 Boston Marathon with homemade pressure-cooker bombs similar to those used in this weekend’s attacks.
Rahami, in other parts of a journal that prosecutors said he was carrying when he was arrested, praised “Brother” Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader slain in a 2011 U.S. raid in Pakistan; Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Muslim cleric and leading al Qaeda propagandist who was killed in a 2011 U.S. drone strike in Yemen; and Nidal Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist who shot dead 13 people and wounded 32 at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Julia Edwards in Washington and Mehreen Zahra-Malik in Quetta, Pakistan; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Will Dunham and Alan Crosby)