Ahmed Khan Rahami, the man charged with a string of bombings throughout the New York/New Jersey area during the last weekend, may have sneaked into Turkey during a prolonged trip to Pakistan in 2014, according to The New York Times.
The Times cites “officials” stating that evidence now exists that Rahami visited Ankara, the Turkish capital, in January 2014, shortly before returning to the United States in March of that year. Upon his return, Customs officials stopped him in New York’s Kennedy International Airport for questioning and forwarded his case to the FBI for further scrutiny, but Rahami cleared all questioning and was never placed on any watch lists.
“The report by the NTC [National Targeting Center] did not mention any travel to Turkey, according to a law enforcement official who reviewed it,” referring to the report by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s National Targeting Center. The Times estimates the Ankara trip to have lasted three weeks.
The new evidence linking Rahami to Turkey brings more attention to his mother, Najiba, who reportedly left the United States in late August for a visit to Turkey, and has yet to return.
The family, originally from Afghanistan, is known to have relatives on the other side of the border in Pakistan. Rahami told officials when he returned from Pakistan that he had been visiting family, and he had recently married a Pakistani woman. Investigators have revealed no known ties between the Rahami family and Turkey.
Months after returning from Pakistan and marrying there, Rahami’s father, Mohammed, would report him to the FBI as a potential terrorist threat. The FBI once again found no indication that Rahami would engage in terrorist activities. In defense of their investigations, law enforcement officials have protested that it is “not realistic” to expect police and federal officials to be able to track individuals like Rahami, who had neither an overt jihadi footprint on social media nor a criminal record.
While Rahami did not post jihadist musings or Islamist propaganda online, his siblings were active Facebook fans of the Muslim Brotherhood. An account believed to belong to Rahami’s sister Aziza posted multiple pro-al-Qaeda items on her Facebook account, including a quote by an al-Qaeda operative, reading, “If defending ourselves is terrorism, then let history be witness that we are terrorists!”
Rahami was born in Afghanistan and naturalized at age 11 through his father, according to reports. Friends of the family have told various media outlets that in high school, he was known as friendly and outgoing and struggled to please his overbearing father. After impregnating his girlfriend, a Dominican-American, his father reportedly forced him on a trip to Pakistan, and made clear he preferred his son marry someone within his ethnic/religious group. Multiple friends say his father stranded Rahami in Pakistan on that trip by stealing his passport and leaving for the United States, leaving Rahami with no documentation to get back home.
Rahami is facing multiple counts of using weapons of mass destruction. Authorities believe he planted bombs in Seaside Park, New Jersey; Elizabeth, New Jersey; and the Chelsea neighborhood of New York. One of two bombs found in Chelsea injured 31 passersby and caused “millions” in property damage, the state concluded in its indictment.