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Suspect arrested over New York and New Jersey bombings

Published 19/09/2016

Police stand guard near the scene of the explosion (AP)
Police stand guard near the scene of the explosion (AP)

An Afghan immigrant wanted for questioning in the bombings that rocked New York City and New Jersey has been captured, authorities said.

Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, was arrested after being wounded in a gun battle with police that erupted when he was discovered sleeping in a bar doorway.

He appeared conscious, his upper right arm bandaged and blooded, as he was loaded into an ambulance in Linden, New Jersey.

Two officers were wounded in the shoot-out but were not believed to be seriously hurt, authorities said.

The arrest came just hours after police issued a bulletin and photo of Rahami, a naturalised US citizen from Afghanistan who lived with family in an apartment in Elizabeth, New Jersey, over a fried-chicken restaurant owned by his father.

Linden Mayor Derek Armstead said that late on Monday morning, the owner of a bar reported someone asleep in his doorway.

A police officer went to investigate and recognised the man as Rahami, police and the mayor said.

Rahami pulled a gun and shot the officer - who was wearing a bulletproof vest - in the torso, and more officers joined in a running gun battle along the street and brought Rahami down, police Captain James Sarnicki said.

Police did not disclose how they zeroed in on Rahami as a person of interest in the bombings but were known to be poring over surveillance video and examining bomb fragments and components for evidence.

At the same time, five people who were pulled over in a vehicle on Sunday night were being questioned by the FBI, officials said.

The shoot-out came after a weekend of fear and dread in New York and New Jersey, with authorities saying the bombings were looking increasingly like an act of terrorism with a foreign connection.

In addition to the blast that injured 29 people in Manhattan's Chelsea neighbourhood on Saturday, an unexploded pressure cooker bomb was found blocks away, and a pipe bomb exploded in a New Jersey shore town before a charity race. No one was injured there.

On Sunday, five explosive devices were discovered in a trash can at an Elizabeth train station.

Also on Saturday, a man who authorities say referred to Allah wounded nine people in a stabbing rampage at a Minnesota mall before being shot to death by an off-duty police officer.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility, but authorities have not drawn any connection between the bloodshed there and the bombings.

Citing the FBI, New Jersey State Police said on Monday that the bombings in Chelsea and the New Jersey shore town Seaside Park were connected.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said as investigators gathered information, they learned there were "certain commonalities among the bombs", leading authorities to believe "that there was a common group behind the bombs".

Before Rahami's capture, Mr Cuomo said investigators have no reason to believe there are further threats, but the public should "be on constant guard".

Around the time Rahami was taken into custody, President Barack Obama was in New York on a previously scheduled visit for a meeting of the UN General Assembly, and said it was "extremely fortunate" nobody was killed in the bombings.

He called on Americans to show the world "we will never give in to fear".

"We all have a role to play as citizens to make sure we don't succumb to that fear. And there's no better example of that than the people of New York and New Jersey," the president said. "Folks around here, they don't get scared."

Rahami lived with his family on a busy street a few miles from the Newark airport. Early on Monday, FBI agents swarmed the apartment.

Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage said Rahami's father, Mohammad, and two of Rahami's brothers sued the city in 2011 after it passed an ordinance requiring the First American Fried Chicken restaurant to close early because of complaints from neighbours that it was a late-night nuisance.

The Rahamis claimed in the lawsuit that they were targeted by neighbours because they are Muslims.

The lawsuit was terminated in 2012 after Mohammad Ruhami 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 the younger 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," Mr McCann said.

In the immediate aftermath of the New York bombing, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mr Cuomo were careful to say there was no evidence of a link to international terrorism. Both said on Monday that appeared to be changing.

"The more we learn with each passing hour is it looks more like terrorism," Mr de Blasio said in an interview on NY1 News.

Mr Cuomo said on MSNBC: "Today's information suggests it may be foreign-related, but we'll see where it goes."

On Sunday night, FBI agents in Brooklyn stopped "a vehicle of interest" in the investigation of the Manhattan explosion, according to FBI spokeswoman Kelly Langmesser.

She would not provide further details, but a government official and a law enforcement official who were briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press that five people in the car were being questioned at an FBI building in Manhattan.

On Sunday, a federal law enforcement official said the Chelsea bomb contained a residue of Tannerite, an explosive often used for target practice that can be picked up in many sporting goods stores.

Mobile phones were discovered at the site of both the New York and New Jersey bombings, but no Tannerite residue was identified in the New Jersey bomb remnants, in which a black powder was detected, said the official.

The pipe bomb that exploded in Seaside Park on Saturday went off before a charity 5K race to benefit Marines and sailors. The race was cancelled.


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