A family friend told CNN that the father of the man believed to have committed multiple jihadist bombings in New York and New Jersey last weekend stole his passport and abandoned him in Pakistan after the man, then a teen, had had a child with a Latin American woman.
Ahmed Khan Rahami, friends say, was once a Western-friendly teen at Edison High School in New Jersey, a disposition that infuriated his father. Following the news that Rahami had impregnated his then-girlfriend, Maria Mena, his father Mohammed made him travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan. One night, a family friend identified as Ehsan told CNN, Mohammed Rahami stole Ahmed’s passport and left the country with the rest of the family.
“[Ahmed Rahami] told me he was basically left there,” Ehsan told CNN. “He had to find his own way back… I’m sure that traumatized him for life … I’m sure that scarred him.” CNN found a second family friend who confirmed receiving calls from Rahami in Pakistan, saying he had no way to leave the country. CNN did not date the trip in question, though Rahami returned to the region multiple times, and married a Pakistani woman in 2014.
Mohammed Rahami has told reporters that he had nothing to do with his son’s jihadi crime spree and that, instead, he had been cooperative with the FBI, going so far as to report his son as a “terrorist” in 2014. The FBI, he claimed, “checked it almost two months. He’s ok. He’s clear. He’s not… terrorist. Now say he’s a terrorist. I say ok.”
Mohammed Rahami has long been the proprietor of First American Fried Chicken, a casual restaurant in Elizabeth, New Jersey. His extensive family resides in the apartment above the restaurant. Media have reported that Rahami fought alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the same militia Osama bin Laden fought with. Members of the Muslim Community Center of Union City, New Jersey say that Mohammed is a well-known member of the Muslim community and participates in board activities.
“I knew the father, he is a devout Muslim,” Ali Jaaber, an imam at the Masjid Darul Islam of Elizabeth, told Voice of America. He protested that the terror attacks make his job “very difficult,” as the media have been asking questions about the origin of Ahmed Khan Rahami’s jihadist ideology.
After his arrest in Linden, New Jersey, Ahmed Khan Rahami was found to be carrying a notebook in which he scribbled his motives for the attacks he committed. “Death to your OPPRESSION,” he wrote, citing Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, and Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani.
Rahami had a limited social media presence, however, and was outdone in posting Islamist propaganda online by his siblings. Aziza Rahami, a woman believed to be his sister, posted pro-Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic State propaganda on her Facebook page before it was taken down this week. “If defending ourselves is terrorism then let history be witness that we are terrorists!” one of her posts read; “No to Democracy, Yes to Khalifah Islamiyya [Islamic Caliphate],” read another.
Mohammed Khan Rahami, Ahmed’s brother, also posted 9/11 conspiracy videos and pro-Islamist propaganda on his also-defunct Facebook page.
Authorities have said they have “no indication” Rahami had help in planning his attacks.
Rahami is facing multiple criminal charges for allegedly planting bombings in Seaside Park, New Jersey; Elizabeth, and the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. One of the bombs left in Chelsea injured 31 people.