(NEW YORK) — Concerns about New York and New Jersey bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami’s intentions were raised to authorities by his father and a neighbor more than once over the past years, ABC News has learned.
Two years ago Rahami’s father told the FBI that his son was interacting with “bad people” overseas and a concerned citizen in the neighborhood told authorities that Rahami’s associates may have been trying to procure explosives, sources told ABC News exclusively.
The FBI first became aware of Rahami in the summer of 2014, when local law enforcement contacted the agency’s New Jersey field office about him, sources said. The FBI then opened a so-called “guardian” file on Rahami, initiating a process to determine whether Rahami had any links to terrorism or other criminal activity and whether a more formal investigation was warranted.
The assessment of Rahami produced no clear evidence or indications of radicalization, and at one point his father recanted his previous claims, sources said. Rahami was not placed on any U.S. terrorism watchlists.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday outside of his New Jersey home, Rahami’s father said he “called the FBI two years ago” about his son.
“I told them you got a connection with this guy,” he said, without offering any further information.
Nevertheless, in some ways the 2014 case reflects how local, state and federal law enforcement agencies now seek to share and track threat-related information.
In summer 2014, the concerned citizen called local law enforcement in New Jersey to report that Rahami’s father had expressed concern his son may be in contact with people overseas who were collecting explosives, ABC News was told. That information was compiled into a “Suspicious Activity Report” and sent through New Jersey’s state fusion center, ultimately making its way to the FBI.
The FBI then interviewed Rahami’s father, who told the FBI that his son had traveled to Pakistan and was interacting with “bad people,” according to sources. Rahami’s father also told the FBI his son had previously injured and beaten members of his immediate family — but a grand jury declined to file charges against him.
At a press conference Monday, the head of the FBI’s field office in New York, Bill Sweeney, noted that the FBI had previously received “a report of a domestic incident,” adding that “the allegations [were] recanted.” Sweeney did not reference or acknowledge the terrorism-related allegations.
It’s unclear if the FBI or other law enforcement agencies ever interviewed Rahami in 2014.
FBI offices undertake a similar assessment process for nearly all of the tens of thousands of Suspicious Activity Reports sent their way each year.
Like in most cases, the FBI found no significant derogatory information in Rahami’s case, sources told ABC News. And one source emphasized that only a single report came to authorities related to Rahami. Had more reports come in, authorities would have been prompted to take a further look at him, the source said.
“Our job together is to find those needles in a hay stack,” FBI Director James Comey recently told lawmakers. “In fact, our job is harder than that, it’s to find pieces of hay in that haystack that may become a needle and disrupt them before they move from consuming to acting on that [online] poisonous propaganda.”
The FBI’s ability to assess potential terrorists came under intense scrutiny after Florida native Omar Mateen opened fire inside Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in June, killing 49 people and injuring scores more.
In May 2013, the FBI had obtained sufficient information to open a preliminary investigation into Mateen — coworkers told authorities that Mateen had made terrorism-related comments at work. But after 10 months of investigation, including two interviews with Mateen, the FBI determined there wasn’t enough information to indicate he was “possibly a terrorist,” as Comey put it after the Orlando attack.
Two months later, in July 2014, the FBI took another look at Mateen because his name “surfaced” in a separate terrorism investigation, Comey told reporters. Mateen was interviewed again, but authorities found no reason to continue tracking him.
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