Could the man alleged to have been responsible for the New Jersey/New York bombings have been stopped beforehand?
In San Bernardino, California and Orlando, Florida, Americans radicalized to violence killed dozens of their fellow citizens — despite having left clues beforehand that might have alerted authorities.
Ahmad Rahami, the suspect in the New Jersey/New York bombings, may also have given indications through his contact with law enforcement and his travels abroad, among other things, that could have been tip-offs to authorities.
"Our thinking and practices regarding domestic threats needs to radically change in this ISIS era," a senior U.S. intelligence official told NBC News. The official said he was concerned that the counter-terrorism community was failing to keep up with the increasingly obvious pattern of attacks.
Below, in rough chronological order, is a list of times that he came to the notice of government officials — and, in some cases, of potential clues that weren't pursued.
- Ahmad and the other members of the Rahami family brought suit in federal district court in 2011, alleging that they were being harassed for being Muslim. The defendants say the dispute was about noise from the restaurant, which stayed open late, but the Rahami suit says the neighbors said "Muslims make too much trouble in this country."
- He visited Pakistan and Afghanistan, considered high-risk areas by the governments, in 2011, staying six months. He received a "secondary inspection" from U.S. officials on his return. Rahami, an Afghan-born U.S. citizen, said he was attending a wedding and visiting family in Quetta, Pakistan, an area known for Taliban activity.
- Rahami married a Pakistani national while in Quetta, according to two senior U.S. intelligence officials. Before his return to the U.S., he contacted his congressman and asked for assistance bringing his new wife to the States. That request was forwarded to the State Department and USCIS, a part of the Department of Homeland Security. She subsequently received a visa to enter the United States after she gave birth to a male child. Sources with knowledge of the case say she traveled overseas weeks ago, as did Ahmad's mother, who reportedly went to Turkey.
- Back in New Jersey, an unnamed individual took out a restraining order against Rahami in 2012.
- Rahami returned to Pakistan in April 2013 and stayed nearly a year (though he may have returned to New Jersey briefly at some point). He lived with family in Quetta. During this time, he may also have traveled to Afghanistan. His biometrics — iris and fingerprints — would have been taken on entry to Pakistan, as Pakistan has required of all U.S. visitors since the May 2011 U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan. That information would be available to the U.S. on request. If he then entered Afghanistan from Pakistan through the border's busiest crossing at Torkham, his biometrics would have been taken again, as is required by the U.S. government. That set of biometrics would go into a database used by DHS.
- While Rahami was in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, his siblings were posting pro-jihadi comments on social media. One posted a quote from U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the recruiter and propagandist for al-Qaeda in Yemen who was killed by a U.S. air strike in September 2011. His brother and sister both visited Pakistan during this period, and his brother is believed to be living in Pakistan or Afghanistan still.
- Upon returning to the U.S. in 2014, Ahmad Rahami was required to go through TSA/CBP secondary screening again because he had visited Quetta, an area associated with the Taliban and terrorist activity.
- In August 2014, Ahmad Rahami was charged in New Jersey with aggravated assault and unlawful possession of a weapon and was released after posting $25,000 bail because of an alleged attack on a relative with a knife. The charges were never pursued.
- As part of the August 2014 fracas, eyewitnesses reported that Rahami's father had called Ahmad a terrorist. The father subsequently told local police that he had merely hurled the charge in the heat of an argument. The Newark JTTF interviewed the father after the incident. According to an FBI statement: "In August 2014, the FBI initiated an assessment of Ahmad Rahami based upon comments made by his father after a domestic dispute that were subsequently reported to authorities. The FBI conducted internal database reviews, interagency checks, and multiple interviews, none of which revealed ties to terrorism." It is unclear if those interviews included actual discussions with the alleged bomber Ahmad.
- According to intelligence sources, Rahami has a 2014 NJ license to own a firearm.
- Rahami (or an accomplice) would have had to purchase the materials for the various explosives he allegedly produced: two pressure cooker bombs, three pipe bombs, and one "multi-part device." Since no bomb materials were found at his family's restaurant or their residence, he may he conducted his bomb-making at another location — as yet unknown.