According to a report at the Daily Beast, Ahmad Khan Rahami, accused perpetrator of the weekend terrorist bombings in New York and New Jersey, traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan several times without the U.S. government becoming aware of his activities. News also broke on Tuesday morning that Rahami’s wife left the United States a few days before he launched his attack.
A U.S. official told the Daily Beast that Rahami made “at least three and possibly four trips to Pakistan over the past 10 years,” but it is not known which parts of the country he visited. Of particular interest is whether he spent time in the terrorist-haunted border regions.
The Rahami family seems to spend a good deal of time in Pakistan. The Daily Beast notes his father spent at least a month there in 2011, and upon his return, his lawyer told the judge in a civil suit that his family would still be in Afghanistan for at least a few days. Rahami’s older brother is in Pakistan right now.
The Daily Beast found that one of Rahami’s brothers, Mohammed, posted a jihad message on Facebook in 2013. It included a photo of militants training in martial arts with a quote from Khalid bin Walid, companion to the prophet Mohammed: “I bring the men who desire death as ardently as you desire life.”
The Beast mentions that Mohammed was arrested at one point, prompting the family to file a civil discrimination suit against the city of Elizabeth in 2011. It also notes that one of Ahmad Rahami’s brothers “went to Pakistan following a fight with a police officer.” This was another older brother, Qasim, according to the UK Telegraph.
The Rahami family restaurant was the cause of some trouble with local authorities. There were complaints that it created too much noise late at night, while the family claimed they were being discriminated against because they were Muslims. The lawsuit they filed in 2011 claimed they were harassed by both neighbors and city officials, the latter pestering them with unnecessary regulations and ordinances. The city insisted its regulatory actions were solely due to noise complaints.
According to NJ.com, “two members of the Rahami family were arrested during a confrontation with police in 2009, stemming from an officer issuing a summons to the establishment for being open late.” That sounds like it would cover the conflicts between his older brothers and the police.
“The suit is still active, but the family’s attorney recused herself in 2015. The case was stayed after at least one of the Rahami family pleaded guilty to preventing law enforcement from making an arrest at the restaurant,” NJ.com added.
There is “some confusion” over Rahami’s citizenship status, as he was brought to the United States in 1995 to seek asylum, but it is unclear if he or the rest of his family were ever granted legal residency. “It may have taken some time for their application to be processed and approved,” the Daily Beast ventures. Most other media sources matter-of-factly describe Rahami as a naturalized U.S. citizen.
The Chelsea Patch reports Rahami became a naturalized citizen in 2011, and “almost immediately” took his first trip back to Afghanistan. He “spent close to a year” in Pakistan in 2013, according to the Patch’s sources.
There is much interest in the theory that he became radicalized during this trip, as friends and neighbors have said they noticed a “marked change in his personality and religious devotion” upon his return, as the New York Times put it.
More specifically, he became “stern” instead of “genial,” grew a beard, began wearing “traditional Muslim robes” at the chicken restaurant owned by his family, and “began to pray in the back of the store.” Regular patrons of the restaurant stressed how dramatic the transformation in his personality was.
Despite assurances that Rahami was not on any terror watch lists or “law enforcement radar,” he did have a troubling legal history, which American media seems very reluctant to discuss. The Chelsea Patch recounts part of it:
Upon returning to the U.S. from Afghanistan a few years back, Rahami was questioned by border officers, a law enforcement source told Patch — but apparently didn’t set off any alarm bells. And before Monday, the only time he had come into contact with New Jersey police was for a domestic violence incident in which he allegedly pulled a knife on his sister, a source said — a claim she later refuted, and for which she refused to press charges.
The Daily Beast and New York Times tell a grimmer tale:
Rahimi had a series of escalating run-ins with the law beginning in 2008, when he spent a day in jail for unpaid parking tickets, and another in 2012 after he allegedly violated a restraining order, The New York Times reports. In 2014, Rahami spent three days in jail on weapons and aggravated assault charges, after allegedly stabbing a person in the leg, The New York Times reports. A grand jury dropped Rahami’s charges for the fight, which allegedly began as a domestic dispute.
We turn to the UK Daily Mail for the rest of that “stabbing a person in the leg” story:
On August 22, 2014, Rahami was arrested for aggravated assault and unlawful possession of a knife after allegedly stabbing an individual named Nasim Rahami in the left leg in an ‘attempt to cause serious bodily injury.’
A neighbor told Haaretz newspaper that Rahami has a brother named Nasim Rahami, while the case was classified as domestic violence in the complaint and arrest warrant.
Rahami was also arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm ‘with a purpose to use it unlawfully against the person or property of Nasim Rahami’.
According to the arrest warrant, ‘the officer has reason to believe that the person [Ahmad Rahami] is a danger to himself, others, or property.’
But despite the warning, Rahami was never charged by a grand jury, according to officials at the criminal court division of the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth, N.J.
The Daily Mail also quotes the mother of Rahami’s child, a high-school sweetheart identified only as “Maria” in a Fox News interview. She described him as “a bad father who disliked America, hated gays and took long trips to his homeland of Afghanistan,” in Fox’s summation:
“He would speak often of Western culture and how it was different back home,” she said. “How there weren’t homosexuals in Afghanistan.”
“He seemed standoffish to American culture, but I never thought he would cross the line,” she added.
[…] Maria recalled one chilling exchange in which the father of her child – a “class clown” in high school – demonstrated his hatred for the U.S. military.
“One time, he was watching TV with my daughter and a woman in a [military] uniform came on and he told [their daughter], ‘That’s the bad person,'” she said.
[…] At Edison High School, where Rahami and Maria met, Rahami got along with classmates and was known as the class clown, she said. But he often criticized American culture, comparing it to the strict Islamic code of his homeland.
“I never thought he would do something like this,” she said through tears. “I think he was brainwashed.”
Maria recalled that Rahami would often go back to Afghanistan to see family, and would stay for weeks, or even months. Right before their daughter was born, Rahami was in Afghanistan and had trouble returning because authorities in Afghanistan confiscated his passport for unknown reasons, Maria said. The last time Maria knows that Rahami visited his homeland was nine years ago. He brought back a wife and another child, she said.
She concluded the interview by refusing to say exactly why she and Rahami broke up, but castigated him for refusing to pay child support, and said her “greatest fear” was that “he would try to take my daughter.”
Rahami is married to someone other than Maria. CNN reported on Tuesday that his wife left the United States a few days before the bomb attacks. U.S. officials are reportedly working with the governments of Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates to “gain access to her,” but there is no clear indication of her current whereabouts:
Her timeline in the United States wasn’t immediately clear. Rahami had tried earlier this decade to petition to bring his wife to the United States from Pakistan, though it wasn’t clear when he succeeded.
A law enforcement official told CNN that Rahami filed the paperwork in 2011, and it was approved in 2012.
Then, in 2014, Rahami contacted the office of US Rep. Albio Sires, D-New Jersey, from Islamabad, Pakistan, saying he was concerned about his wife’s passport and visa. It turned out her Pakistani passport had expired and the consulate wouldn’t give her an immigrant visa until the passport was renewed, Sires said.
Once the passport was renewed, she found out she was pregnant, and officials told her they wouldn’t give a visa until she had the baby, Sires said. They also told her when she had the baby they had to get an immigrant visa for the baby.
At that point, Rahami claims the consulate told him to go back to Karachi, Pakistan, but he claimed it was too dangerous to go there. The congressman doesn’t know what happened after that.
Taken in sum, this seems like enough interesting history to ping a few official “radar screens.”