A Boston man who was shot and killed by members of a counter-terrorism task force had been planning an attack in the United States by beheading someone, possibly randomly chosen police officers, according to a federal criminal complaint filed Wednesday.
Usaamah Rahim, 26, a private security officer who lived in Boston, had been planning the attack since at least May 26 and had bought knives online from Amazon, according to court documents. Rahim, who was under law enforcement surveillance, was fatally shot Tuesday by members of a Joint Terrorism Task Force in the Boston neighborhood of Roslindale after he reportedly approached the officers with a large knife.
The details about Rahim are contained in the criminal complaint filed against David Wright, 24, who was charged Wednesday with conspiring to delete information from Rahim's laptop and smartphone to thwart investigators. Wright allegedly supported Rahim's plan. The two men had been under watch for at least several days, with investigators monitoring their phone calls, texts and packages, according to the criminal complaint.
On Tuesday, Rahim had called Wright to say "that he was going to 'go after' the 'boys in blue,'" a reference to police officers, according to an FBI special agent who wrote the criminal complaint.
"I'm just going to, ah, go after them, those boys in blue," Rahim said, according to a transcript of the call in the court documents. " 'Cause, ah, it's the easiest target and, ah, the most common is the easiest for me."
During the conversation Wright commented to Rahim about "thinking with your head on your chest," an apparent reference to beheadings by foreign terrorist organizations in which executioners place victims' "heads on their chests in propaganda videos," the documents said.
In addition the complaint said that Wright told Rahim: "Make sure also, very important, make sure that, ah, at the moment that you decide to that [sic] you ah, delete, you delete ah, from your phone or you break it apart. Throw it down to the ground."
"Yup," Rahim replied, according to the transcript.
"Get rid of it, before anybody gets it; make sure it's completely destroyed," Wright allegedly said. "Because, at the scene, at the scene, CSI" -- an apparent reference to crime scene investigators -– "will be looking for that particular thing and so dump it, get rid of that."
When investigators confronted Rahim near a CVS parking lot shortly after the conversation, about 7 a.m. Tuesday, they told him to drop one of the knives he'd bought, and he replied, "You drop yours," the complaint says.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, cited "reports" that Rahim was being investigated for "spreading ISIS propaganda online" and communicating with supporters of the Islamic State militant group that has taken over parts of Syria and Iraq.
"Known associates of Mr. Rahim are also being arrested as we speak," McCaul said at a Wednesday hearing. "These cases are a reminder of the dangers posed by individuals radicalized through social media."
Wright was due to appear in federal court Wednesday afternoon.
Also on Wednesday, investigators allowed Boston community and religious leaders to view surveillance video of Rahim's shooting. Community leaders said the video shows Rahim was not shot in the back.
Rahim's brother, an imam, Ibrahim Rahim, had alleged Tuesday that his brother had been shot in the back while on the phone with his father and that he had been waiting at the bus stop to go to work.
In a post on Facebook, Ibrahim Rahim, whom the Boston Globe calls a popular moderate leader in the local Islamic community, wrote that his brother "was confronted by three Boston Police officers and subsequently shot in the back three times."
"His last words to my father who heard the shots were: 'I can't breathe!'" Rahim wrote.
Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, who viewed the video, told reporters "the individual was not on a cellphone. The individual was not shot in the back."
A local imam agreed and added of Usaamah Rahim's confrontation with officials, "It wasn't at a bus stop, he wasn't shot in the back. … He was approaching them, they did back up."
Williams and other community leaders, however, said the video was too far away to show the incident in detail, and they said they would withhold judgment on whether the shooting was justified.
Ibrahim Rahim could not be reached for comment Wednesday and had not made any additional posts after community leaders contradicted his claims.
"The most important thing to do now is to let us do our work," Suffolk County Dist. Atty. Daniel Conley, whose office will investigate the use of force, said at the news conference. "It's very important we get to the very bottom of what happened."
Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said Wednesday that the video shows officers "backtracking" as Rahim walked toward them with a knife.
Evans said that calling the community meeting and showing leaders the video was "all about pulling the community together."
On Tuesday, Evans had said Rahim was "a known suspect wanted for some terrorist-related information we had received.... He was someone we were watching for quite a time."
Vincent B. Lisi, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, earlier told reporters that officials wanted "to approach him and interview him and talk to him about his intentions."
The unidentified officials who shot Rahim did not have a warrant and did not plan to arrest him, but "we considered him armed and dangerous," Lisi said at a Tuesday news conference.
When the officials with Boston police and the FBI approached Rahim without their guns drawn, Rahim pulled out a large knife "unprovoked" and ignored commands to drop it, Evans said.
Rahim "came at the officers," who retreated and opened fire when Rahim got close enough that "their lives were in danger," Evans said.
On Tuesday, Evans said Rahim was shot once in the torso and once in the abdomen and was pronounced dead at a hospital. On Wednesday, he said Rahim had been shot three times.
The large black knife, which Evans described as "military-type," was displayed for the media at the Tuesday news conference.