A New Jersey man who planted a pair of improvised bombs in Manhattan in September 2016, injuring more than 30 people when one exploded, said in federal court Tuesday that he doesn’t “harbor hate towards anyone.”
But Ahmad Khan Rahimi said he felt targeted by U.S. law enforcement authorities because he observed Islam outwardly through his clothing, beard and prayer habits.
“I have learned to understand why there’s such a big frustration between the Muslim community overseas and the American people,” he said.
Rahimi did not his explain his motives or apologize for the attack.
After listening to Rahimi, also identified in court documents as Ahmad Rahami, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman sentenced him to two life terms plus 30 years in prison. Berman also ordered restitution in the amount of $562,803.03 to compensate victims of the attack for injuries and damage to their property.
"At liberty in the community you would be and are a clear and present danger," the judge said.
Rahimi, 30, was convicted in October on charges including using weapons of mass destruction, bombing public places and destroying property by means of fire or explosives. The charges also included using a destructive device during and in furtherance of a crime of violence.
A year earlier, in September 2016, Rahimi transported two improvised pressure-cooker bombs — similar to those used in the Boston marathon bombing in April 2013 — from New Jersey to New York, placing both in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, authorities said. One bomb left near a trash bin went off about 8:30 p.m., injuring multiple people. The other bomb, four blocks north, was discovered and rendered safe before it could explode.
Earlier that day, another bomb planted by Rahimi had gone off in Seaside Park, N.J., along the route for a charity 5K race. The next day, six more bombs were found in a backpack at the entrance to the New Jersey Transit station in Elizabeth, N.J.
Rahimi was later captured after a shootout with police in Linden, N.J. He faces pending charges related to the shootout in state court in New Jersey, Berman said.
Rahimi was born in Afghanistan but brought to the U.S. as a child. He grew up in Elizabeth above his parents’ fried-chicken restaurant and became a naturalized citizen in 2011. Along the way, he studied criminal justice at Middlesex County College in Edison, N.J., hoping to become a law enforcement officer.
Rahimi was believed to have been radicalized during trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Prosecutors said he began researching terrorist ideology around 2012 and searched the internet in 2015 and 2016 for information on how to make bombs.
In an interview with the local NBC station Monday, Rahimi’s father, Mohammad Rahami, called his son a “terrorist.”
“He did it as a terrorist.… This is terrorist,” Rahami said.
Two years earlier, Rahami told NBC, he had contacted the FBI about his son’s activities, but the FBI closed the investigation after two months.
A spokeswoman for the FBI said in a statement that in August 2014, the FBI initiated an assessment of Rahimi based on comments made by his father after a domestic dispute.
“The FBI conducted extensive internal database reviews, interagency checks, and multiple interviews, none of which revealed ties to terrorism,” the statement said.
In court before Berman delivered his sentence Tuesday, Rahimi, who was wearing blue prison garb and a white skullcap, described how he grew up the son of hardworking parents who never espoused terrorist ideology at home.
“My dad throughout his entire life tried to give us what he missed out on,” he said, his father sitting in a back row in the courtroom.
Rahimi said that he “integrated comfortably” into American society while growing up, but was later targeted by the FBI and other law enforcement for questioning at airports.
“What red flag did I throw up, other than wearing a Muslim attire?” he said.
Rahimi vigorously denied allegations by prosecutors that he had tried to spread terrorist propaganda while in federal custody.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Shawn Crowley said in court that Rahimi’s statement that he bore no one hate was “ridiculous.”
“Everything that he has done since September 2016 and well before that was fueled by hate,” she said.
Berman said that he could understand that Rahimi might have grievances with how he was treated, but that they did not justify his actions.
“Innocent people on a Saturday night on 23rd Street.... It’s inexplicable that anyone would do that intentionally, but it’s clear from the evidence and the record that you did,” he said.
Berman said he imposed the sentence because of the severity of Rahimi’s crimes, his history of scheming and extensively preparing to try to kill innocent people, and the principle of deterrence.
“One thing that a life sentence does is to make sure that you can’t do it again,” he said.
After he read the sentence, Berman asked whether any of the victims present — for whom he had delayed the start of proceedings Tuesday — wished to speak.
Pauline Nelson, 48, was driving on West 23rd Street in Manhattan on the night one of the bombs planted by Rahimi went off there. The Trinidad native and single mom said she didn’t tell her youngest child that she was in court Tuesday because the memory of that night was still raw.
“I’m all they have,” she said of her four children, ages 17 to 29. “You never apologized to no one in the courtroom…. God forgive you, that’s all I have to tell you.”