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NY, NJ bombings: After suspect’s capture, a search for clues into his past

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NEW YORK — What was his motive? Was he working alone? Why did he make lengthy trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan?

These are some of the questions that have emerged in the wake of the capture of the man suspected of planting bombs in New York and New Jersey over the weekend.

Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, is “directly linked” to bombings Saturday in New York City and Seaside Park, New Jersey, and is believed to be connected to pipe bombs found Sunday night in Elizabeth, New Jersey, sources said.

Rahami was charged with five counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon and second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose on Monday, according to the Union County, New Jersey Prosecutor’s office.

The arrest

Rahami was captured after the owner of a bar in Linden, New Jersey, found him sleeping in the doorway of his bar Monday morning. Harinder Bains, owner of Merdie’s Tavern, recognized Rahami after watching CNN on his laptop and called police.

When officers responded, Rahami pulled out a handgun and opened fire, striking an officer in the chest. A foot chase ensued, during which Rahami shot at a police car, causing a bullet to graze another office in the face.

The chase ended when Rahami was shot multiple times. He was taken to a hospital for surgery.

Rahami was not initially cooperative with police who tried to interview him, a law enforcement official said. His bail has been set at $5.2 million.

Authorities believe the “main guy” has been caught but the investigation continues to determine if Rahami had help, sources told CNN.

Though FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr., said there is “no indication” of an active operating cell in the New York area, evidence suggests Rahami was not acting alone, sources told CNN.

The investigation

Initially, a garbage can explosion at a Marine Corps charity race in Seaside Park, New Jersey, seemed to be an isolated incident. Two other unexploded bombs were found nearby and no one was wounded in the blast.

Then an explosion on Saturday night in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood injured 29 people. As law enforcement cordoned off the area, investigators found a pressure cooker four blocks away.

Dark-colored wiring was connected to the pressure cooker by silver duct tape to what appeared to be a cell phone. Ball bearings and BBs were among pieces of metal that appeared to be packed inside, a federal law enforcement official said. A handwritten note found next to it contained ramblings, including references to previous terrorists, including the Boston Marathon bombers.

Surveillance video showed a man believed to be Rahami dragging what appeared to be a duffel bag with wheels near the site of the West 23rd Street explosion about 40 minutes before the blast, according to multiple local and federal law enforcement sources.

About 10 minutes later, surveillance video showed the same man with the same duffel bag on West 27th Street, multiple law enforcement sources said.

In the video, the man left the duffel bag where police later found the unexploded pressure cooker. After he left, the video showed two other men removing a white garbage bag believed to contain the pressure cooker from the duffel bag and leaving it on the sidewalk, according to a senior law enforcement official and another source familiar with the video.

Investigators want to talk to the two men, but appeared to have moved away from the idea that the pair had been involved. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill described the men as “strolling” along the street and seeming “incredulous” when they took the bag.

Rahami was identified Sunday afternoon through a fingerprint, a senior law enforcement official said. Evidence from the cell phone on the pressure cooker also led to Rahmani’s identification.

His last known address was in Elizabeth, the same city where the backpack with explosives was found Sunday night.

The latest bomb discovery

The backpack with five bombs inside was found in a wastebasket around 9:30 p.m. on Sunday outside a neighborhood pub in Elizabeth, about 16 miles from New York City. Two men found the backpack about 500 feet from a train trestle and alerted police, officials said.

As bomb technicians deployed a robot to examine the devices, one of the bombs detonated. The remaining four were to be taken to an FBI laboratory at Quantico, Virginia, Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage said.

Police checked all garbage cans in the immediate area but found no other suspicious items.

By Monday, authorities said they believed Rahami was linked to the explosion.

Who is the suspect?

Rahami first came to the United States in 1995 as a child, after his father arrived seeking asylum, and became a naturalized US citizen in 2011, according to a law enforcement official who reviewed his travel and immigration record.

Rahami traveled for extended periods to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the last five years, officials said. While in Pakistan in July 2011, he married a Pakistani woman. Two years later, in April 2013, he went to Pakistan and remained there until March 2014, visiting Afghanistan before returning to the United States.

Upon returning from both visits he told officials he was visiting family, satisfying any concerns immigration officials had at the time.

His family runs First American Fried Chicken in Elizabeth, the city’s mayor said. The family has a history of clashes with the community over the restaurant, which used to be open 24 hours a day, Bollwage said.

In 2011, the family sued the city and its police department, alleging discrimination and harassment against Muslims stemming from disputes over the restaurant’s hours. Investigators searched the building on Monday, Bollwage said.

Obama comments on incident

Substantial police presence notwithstanding, life in New York appears to have returned to normal. Authorities had heightened security across the city as it hosts world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly this week.

People in the region are tough and resilient, President Barack Obama said on Monday.

“They don’t get scared,” he said. “That’s the kind of strength that makes me so proud to be an American. And, that’s the kind of strength that is going to be absolutely critical, not just in the days to come, but in the years to come.”

CNN’s Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz reported from New York, and CNN’s Emanuella Grinberg and Holly Yan wrote this story. CNN’s Rachel Crane and Linh Tran reported from Elizabeth, New Jersey, and CNN’s Pamela Brown, Drew Griffin, Madison Park, Joe Sutton, Emily Smith and Max Blau also contributed to this report.

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