Ahmad Rahimi found guilty in Chelsea bombing trial

Posted at 2:56 PM, Oct 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-16 14:56:15-04

A jury found Ahmad Rahimi guilty of eight federal charges Monday in connection with a September 2016 bombing that wounded 30 people in New York.

A powerful explosion from a homemade bomb shook Manhattan’s bustling Chelsea neighborhood just days after the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Ahmad Khan Rahimi faces charges that include using a weapon of mass destruction.

After a two-week trial and roughly four hours of jury deliberation, Rahimi was convicted of charges including the use and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, bombing a public place, destroying property by means of fire or explosives, and using a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence — namely, the use and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction. Rahimi faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison, according to a statement from acting US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim.

Rahimi was arrested and charged after a pressure cooker bomb went off in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood the night of September 17 last year. A second pressure cooker bomb was found a few blocks away, on 27th Street, but didn’t detonate.

Earlier the same day, a bomb went off near the start of a Marine Corps charity run in Seaside Park, New Jersey.

“Swift and resolute justice”

“Rahimi’s crimes of hate have been met with swift and resolute justice,” Kim said in the statement. “Today’s verdict is a victory for New York City, a victory for America in its fight against terror, and a victory for all who believe in the cause of justice.”

Rahimi did not show any emotion as the verdict was read in court.

“Last September, Rahimi set out to harm innocent people who were simply living their lives one Saturday evening,” FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said in a statement. “He underestimated the resilience of New Yorkers as well as the resolution of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force to see justice served.”

Rahimi faces separate charges in other jurisdictions in connection with the bomb that went off in Seaside Park, a backpack containing improvised explosive devices found the following day at a transit station in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and a shootout he had with police before being taken into custody.

The FBI, NYPD, New York State Police and the Linden New Jersey Police Department all collaborated in order to identify and locate Rahimi within 50 hours of the Chelsea bombings, NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill said.

“Today’s verdict is the most forceful deterrent for anyone considering waging terror in our city,” O’Neill said in a statement.

Defense attorneys did not make statements outside of court after the verdict was handed down.

The evidence

During the trial, the prosecution presented evidence — including DNA and fingerprints — linking Rahimi to the bombs that were placed in New Jersey and New York.

“By some miracle, no one was killed that day,” Assistant US Attorney Shawn Crowley said in her opening statement in the trial.

The prosecution also showed jurors home surveillance and cell phone footage allegedly showing Rahimi testing explosives in his backyard with his wife in New Jersey, just days before the explosions.

Prosecutors argued that Rahimi was influenced by Osama bin Laden, ISIS and al Qaeda. They used Rahimi’s Internet search history to show that he believed he was a soldier involved in a holy war. They also displayed excerpts from Rahimi’s personal notebooks, which talked about attacking non-believers and included phrases like “death to your oppressor,” during the trial.

Fifty-two witnesses were called by the prosecution, including some tearful victims from the night of the Chelsea bombings.

While the defense did not present a case, defense attorney Sabrina Shroff argued Rahimi was not guilty on three counts related to the 27th Street bomb. While the government presented Rahimi as an “expert bomb maker,” Shroff argued that if he were an expert, that bomb would have gone off.

“This is a difficult case for you. This is a difficult case for all of us. … However, on counts 2, 5 and 8, Mr. Rahimi is not guilty,” Shroff said in her closing argument.

The defense called for a mistrial on the second day of the trial, but the judge denied their request.

Rahimi was thrown out of court on the first day of trial after he interrupted the lead prosecutor multiple times. When he was allowed to return to court, he apologized and told US District Judge Richard Berman that he had not been given frequent enough visits with his children and hadn’t seen his wife in a year. Berman said he would look into Rahimi’s complaints.

The bombings

The bomb that went off in Chelsea shattered windows, vaulted a steel dumpster more than 100 feet in the air and sent people running from packed restaurants and bars on a Saturday night.

Authorities believed the attack was the first jihadist terrorist attack on the city since the September 11 attacks, which had just passed their 15th anniversary days before.

The bomb on West 23rd Street was left in a heavy steel dumpster. It shattered windows 400 feet away, according to the criminal complaint.

Two days after the bombs went off, police ended a manhunt for Rahimi with a shootout in Linden, New Jersey. Rahimi and two police officers were wounded in the shootout.

Outside of this federal case, Rahimi faces separate charges in New Jersey, including the attempted murder of law enforcement officers stemming from the shootout that led to his capture.

Rahimi’s sentencing is scheduled for January 18. While each of the eight counts have various sentencing recommendations, he faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison for his conviction on the charges of using a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence, namely, the use and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction.