More information continues to surface about Ahmad Khan Rahami, the jihadi who set bombs in New York and New Jersey over the weekend. It appears, contrary to reports from earlier this week, that the U.S. government wasn’t entirely unaware that he was traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
CNN reports that Customs and Border Protection officers interviewed him at the airport when he returned from his year-long sojourn in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region in 2014, logged him into an inter-agency law enforcement database, and reported him to the FBI and other agencies as “someone who investigators should be aware of given his travel and the amount of time spent in areas associated with terrorist groups.”
This notice was sent before Rahami’s father reported him to the FBI as a potential terrorist.
It should be noted that, contrary to widespread media coverage, Mohammed Rahami did not change his mind and retract his report to the FBI. Rather, the Bureau investigated and told the elder Rahami that they found “no derogatory information whatsoever,” as one FBI official put it to NJ.com. Only then did Mohammed Rahami “recant” his report.
A federal law enforcement official told CNN Ahmad Rahami was not “singled out” for special scrutiny by Customs, but was reported as part of a “batch” of people who “traveled to high-risk areas. The official described such bulletins as “pretty common.”
The official added that FBI investigators would have questioned Rahami if he had raised any “red flags” during the Customs interview. The system was explained in detail to CNN:
The senior law enforcement official, explaining the process for secondary screening, said if additional concerns are raised during secondary screening, two additional steps can be taken. An interagency report with information about the traveler can be sent forward immediately to law enforcement and intelligence agencies or the information can be integrated into the Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center’s weekly report.
If the concern is more serious, the screeners can refer the traveler to an investigation by the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the FBI. Representatives from the task force are co-located at airports like JFK and Newark due to the high volume of travelers that are a concern.
Another lingering question about Rahami was whether he acted alone. Law enforcement has given some conflicting signals about whether they suspect he had accomplices.
According to a Fox News report, statements that the bomber probably had accomplices have been made by Jamie Reyes, who owns an establishment called “Sonia’s Beauty Color Express,” located near the Rahami family’s chicken restaurant in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
“I have known him for such a long time, he was not alone. There is no way that Ahmad was alone in this. He made bad connections,” said Reyes.
“Knowing him for such a long time, he was not alone,” Reyes repeated.
Reyes added that Ahmad’s father Mohammad was “very strict,” worried about his children losing their Afghan heritage, and was “not happy when Ahmad fathered a baby girl with a former girlfriend who was Dominican.”
According to Reyes, the elder Rahami wanted all of his sons to travel to Afghanistan to get married and recently indicated that one of his sons is, in fact, currently on a trip to Afghanistan for that purpose.
Mohammad Rahami also allegedly told Reyes that he liked sending his boys to Afghanistan because “he would take their phones away so all they would do was pray” and also lose weight.