Investigators seek 2 witnesses from NY bombing

Posted at 2:01 PM, Sep 21, 2016

NEW YORK (CNN) — Investigators searching for evidence after a bomb exploded in New York say they’re looking for two witnesses who could help them in the case.

The FBI wants to speak with two men allegedly seen on surveillance video removing a pressure cooker with wires and duct tape on it from a piece of luggage left in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood Saturday. The agency released a photograph of the men Wednesday and asked for the public’s assistance locating them.

The men are witnesses and are not accused of wrongdoing, NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau Chief James Waters told reporters.

“We’re very much interested in speaking to them. … There are no criminal charges. They are not in jeopardy of being arrested,” he said.

The FBI wants to speak with two men that surveillance video allegedly shows removing an explosive device from a piece of luggage left in New York's Chelsea neighborhood Saturday.The men are witnesses and are not accused of wrongdoing, NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau Chief James Waters told reporters.

According to the FBI, security camera footage taken on 27th Street shows the men “allegedly located a piece of luggage on the sidewalk, removed an improvised explosive device from the luggage, and then left the vicinity leaving the device behind but taking the luggage.”

Rahami can’t be questioned yet

Investigators have not yet talked to bombings suspect Ahmad Rahami, who was taken to a hospital and had surgery after being wounded in the shootout Monday that ended in his capture. Waters said doctors had not yet cleared him for questioning, but that may happen in the next day or so, depending on his doctors’ approval.

Prosecutors: Suspect praised bin Laden in journal

In the journal police found on Rahami following the shootout, he declared that “the sounds of bombs will be heard in the streets” and praised “Brother Osama Bin Laden,” authorities said.

Rahami was charged Tuesday with four counts in federal court in connection with incidents in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, and Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

Complaints filed in federal court in Manhattan and New Jersey contain details from the investigation and Rahami’s handwritten journal, which was damaged from a shootout with police.

He is charged with use of weapons of mass destruction, bombing a public place, destruction of property and use of a destructive device.

The 28-year-old naturalized US citizen also faces charges in New Jersey state court stemming from a shootout with police in Linden before he was taken into custody.

New details emerge

The complaint sheds new light on Rahami’s alleged motives and means, and the time line of the incidents.

Two cell phones used in the bombs were shipped to a Perth Amboy, New Jersey, store located about 500 meters from a residence listed on Rahami’s 2012 passport application as home.

The “user address” for the phone attached to the unexploded pressure cooker bomb found in Chelsea belonged to Rahami’s residence, the complaint alleges.

A social media account associated with the phone contained videos of violent extremist content.

From June 20 to August 10, registered eBay user “ahmad rahimi” purchased items associated with bomb making. They were shipped to a Perth Amboy business where Rahami is believed to have worked until September 12.

The Chelsea explosion came from a “high explosive charge” placed inside a pressure cooker and left in a Dumpster. The blast propelled the Dumpster 100 feet and shattered windows 400 feet above the detonation. The bomb was packed with ball bearings and steel nuts — likely used to increase the lethality of the device — that traveled as far as 650 feet from the site, the complaint alleges.

An unexploded pressure cooker found a few blocks away — the one inside the duffel bag taken by the two men authorities want to question — was packed with similar components, including a cell phone that would act as a timer. Twelve fingerprints recovered from the pressure cooker, duct tape and triggering cell phone were matched to Rahami.

In addition to bin Laden, the journal contained references to Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born cleric, and Fort Hood, Texas, mass shooter Nidal Hasan. There are mentions of pipe bombs, a pressure cooker bomb and a partial sentence that reads, “in the streets they plan to run a mile.”

It closes with “Inshallah,” which means God willing, “the sounds of the bombs will be heard in the streets. Gun shots to your police. Death To Your OPPRESSION.”

Why the FBI interviewed Rahami’s father in 2014

Earlier Tuesday, Rahami’s father told reporters that he called the FBI two years ago when his son was acting violently.

The FBI interviewed Rahami’s father in 2014 after a violent domestic dispute. That interview stemmed from a tip alleging that Rahami’s father was calling his son a terrorist, according to two US officials.

However, there are contradictory accounts of how Rahami came to the attention of law enforcement. His father told reporters that he contacted the FBI and expressed his concern after the dispute.

When the FBI talked with the father, he recanted his claim that his son was a terrorist but expressed concern that Ahmad was engaged in criminal or gang activity, a federal law enforcement source said.

Ultimately, federal investigators believed it was a domestic dispute, several federal officials told CNN. At the time of that interview, Rahami was in jail following a family dispute in which he stabbed one of his relatives.

The FBI never interviewed Ahmad Rahami, according to officials. He was never placed in an FBI database of potential terrorists, officials said.

His wife’s whereabouts

Rahami had also traveled for extended periods to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the last few years. While he was in Pakistan in 2011, Rahami married a Pakistani woman. That same year, he filed paperwork to bring her back to the US, and it was approved in 2012. However it’s unclear if she came to the US at that time.

In 2014, Rahami contacted Congressman Albio Sires’ office from Islamabad, saying he was concerned about his wife’s passport and visa. It turned out her Pakistani passport had expired. Once it was renewed, she discovered she was pregnant. She was told she would need a visa for the baby as well. It is unclear what happened to the child.

However, Rahami’s wife eventually made it to the US — and she left before Saturday’s attacks, according to a law enforcement official.

She is cooperating with investigators, according to the source. She has spoken with US officials in the United Arab Emirates.

How he was found

Surveillance video from Saturday evening showed a man believed to be Rahami dragging what appeared to be a duffel bag with wheels near the site of the West 23rd Street explosion about 40 minutes before the blast.

About 10 minutes later, surveillance video showed the same man with the same duffel bag on West 27th Street, near where the unexploded pressure cooker was found.

Authorities revealed Rahami’s identity on Monday morning.

He was captured four hours later in Linden, New Jersey, about 20 miles from New York City. Police found him after a bar owner spotted him sleeping in the doorway of his bar.

When officers responded, Rahami pulled out a handgun and opened fire, authorities said. Two officers were injured in the shootout, which ended when Rahami was shot multiple times. He was taken to a hospital for surgery.

His bail has been set at $5.2 million.