In a violent end to a hectic weekend in New York and New Jersey, law enforcement officials on Monday captured Ahmad Khan Rahami, the prime suspect in two bombings in Manhattan and New Jersey on Saturday, after a brief gunbattle in Linden, N.J.
The 28-year-old naturalized American, born in Afghanistan, emerged as the focus of federal and local law enforcement search efforts Sunday evening after his fingerprints were found on an unexploded bomb in Manhattan.
The bombing spree began Saturday morning at a Marine Corps-sponsored marathon in Seaside Heights, N.J., followed by a blast in Manhattan Saturday night from another bomb that injured 29. On Sunday, a backpack with five bombs was found outside a restaurant in Elizabeth, N.J., and was detonated by police.
The suspect was captured on surveillance video near two the locations in Manhattan, and the search briefly closed the U.S. Military Academy at West Point Monday morning after reports that a man resembling Rahami was on campus. The lockdown was lifted after an hour or so.
While officials are scrambling to understand the motivations behind the attack, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told CNN Monday, “I would not be surprised if we did have a foreign connection to the act.” Those comments mark a significant change in tone for the governor, who on Sunday dismissed any concerns that the bombing had any connections to international terrorism.
In the homestretch of the U.S. election, the bomb-scarred weekend is driving both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival Donald Trump to woo voters by essentially saying: “I can make you safer.”
On Monday morning, millions of New York residents received an unprecedented cellphone alert that authorities were seeking Rahami. On Saturday, a man armed with a knife also stabbed eight people at a mall in Minnesota. The Islamic State has claimed credit for that attack, and President Obama said Monday that the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism. He added, however, that there is no known connection between the attacks in Minnesota, and the ones in New York and New Jersey.
Trump immediately seized on the news Monday morning to slam the White House and Clinton for downplaying the threat, reiterating his calls to stop immigration from Muslim countries and blaming political correctness.
“I think there is, I think there’s many foreign connections,” Trump said Monday morning on Fox News. “This is one group, but you have many, many groups because we are allowing these people to come into our country and destroy our country and make it unsafe for people,” he said.
“We’re allowing these people to come in. We don’t want to do any profiling,” he continued. “If somebody looks like he’s got a massive bomb on his back, we don’t go up to the person and say, ‘I’m sorry’ — because if he looks like he comes from that part of the world. We’re not allowed to profile. Give me a break.”
Clinton emphasized Monday morning that Trump’s fear mongering boosts the propaganda of terrorist groups such as ISIS. She also argued that she alone has the experience to meet ongoing threats.
“I am the only candidate in this race who has been at the heart of decisions to take terrorists off the battlefield,” she said in a press conference.
“We know a lot of the rhetoric we’ve heard from Donald Trump has been seized on by terrorists in particular ISIS because they are looking to make this into a war against Islam,” she said. Trump’s claims that she and President Barack Obama are responsible for the proliferation of such attacks are, she said, “like so much else he’s said, not grounded in fact, but meant to make some kind of demagogic point.”
Obama, for his part, is receiving briefings from local law enforcement and the FBI, and no determination has been made yet about the suspected bomber’s international ties, if any. But he vowed to continue strikes against the Islamic State.
Speaking from New York, where he is attending his last U.N. General Assembly, Obama said, “We are going to continue to go after them … they are going to continue to lose ground in Iraq and Syria.”
But he also tweaked Trump and his reaction to the incidents. “They are trying to disrupt the way we live,” Obama said. “By showing the entire world that as Americans we do not and never will give in to fear, that is going to be the most important ingredient to defeating those who would carry out attacks against us.”
Kavitha Surana contributed to this report.