The powerful explosion from a homemade bomb shook Manhattan’s bustling Chelsea neighborhood just days after the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The blast shattered windows, vaulted a steel dumpster more than 100 feet through the cool air and sent people running from packed restaurants and bars on a Saturday night in September of last year.
At least 30 people were injured, many by shrapnel, in what authorities believe was Manhattan’s first jihadist terrorist attack since 9/11.
On Monday, a little over two miles from the blast site, 29-year-old Ahmad Khan Rahimi will be tried on federal charges that include using a weapon of mass destruction and bombing a public place. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
Bomb similar to Boston Marathon devices
A jury will hear opening statements before Judge Richard Berman in US District Court in lower Manhattan.
Prosecutors will try to show how jihadist ideology motivated Rahimi to set off bombs in Manhattan and New Jersey before he was wounded by police at the end of a furious manhunt.
On top of the federal case, Rahimi faces charges in a separate New Jersey case, including the attempted murder of law enforcement officers stemming from a shootout that ended with his capture.
Sabrina Shroff, an attorney for the Afghanistan-born US citizen, declined to comment on Friday.
Rahimi allegedly detonated bombs the morning of September 17, 2016 near the start of a Marine Corps charity run in Seaside Park, New Jersey, and, later that night in the Chelsea neighborhood. There were no injuries in the first blast.
An unexploded pressure cooker bomb — almost identical to the devices used in the Boston Marathon attacks three years earlier — was found several blocks from the Chelsea blast, according to a criminal complaint.
The bomb set off on West 23rd Street in Chelsea was left in a heavy steel dumpster. It shattered windows some 400 feet away, the complaint said.
A bloodied journal
At least one victim was knocked unconscious while driving in his car near the bomb site. Another suffered a head injury when the blast hit the car she was traveling in.
Rahimi was carrying a bloodied handwritten journal when he was taken into custody in New Jersey. The complaint said it included the line: “You (USA Government) continue your [unintelligible] slaught[er] against the mujahidean be it Afghanistan, Iraq, Sham [Syria], Palestine.”
A largely unintelligible page in the journal refers to “pipe bombs” and a “pressure cooker bomb.”
The journal writer talks of seeking guidance for attacks on non-believers where they live, according to the complaint. “I looked for guidance and . . Guidance came Sheikh Anwar Said it clearly attack the Kuffar [non-believers] in their backyard.”
A FBI agent in the complaint said he believes “Sheikh Anwar” refers to Anwar al-Awlaki, formerly a senior leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based designated foreign terrorist organization.
The document includes laudatory references to al-Awlaki as well as to Nidal Hasan, who shot and killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, and “Brother Osama Bin Laden.”
Sleeping in doorway of a bar
Investigators said Rahimi sought to spread terror across two states.
On the night of September 18, 2016, a backpack containing five bombs was found in a wastebasket near a rail station in Elizabeth, New Jersey, about 16 miles from New York City.
The federal complaint said Rahimi traveled to Manhattan from New Jersey about two hours before the Chelsea blast.
A manhunt throughout the region ended on the morning of September 19, 2016, when Rahimi was wounded in a shootout with police in Linden, New Jersey. Two officers were wounded.
Rahimi was captured after the owner of a Linden bar found him sleeping in the doorway of his business and called police.
Rahimi first came to the United States in 1995 and became a naturalized citizen in 2011. He had been living with his family in New Jersey.