PROSECUTORS and New York’s top federal public defender argued on September 22 over when the suspect in the series of weekend bombings around the city and New Jersey will get a lawyer.
Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, has been held in a Newark, New Jersey, hospital since he was arrested on September 19 after a gunfight with police. He faces federal charges in both states for a September 17 bombing in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood that injured 31 people and a pair of blasts in New Jersey.
Rahami, a naturalized U.S. citizen who emigrated from Afghanistan with his family at the age of 7, was motivated by militant Islamic views, prosecutors said, citing a journal he was carrying in which he begged for martyrdom and expressed outrage at the U.S. “slaughter” of Muslim fighters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Palestine.
The case is being treated by authorities as an act of terrorism, and while prosecutors currently believe Rahami acted alone they are still searching for anyone who may have helped him plan the attack or build the homemade bombs.
David Patton, the head of the federal public defenders office in New York asked on September 21 to be appointed as Rahami’s attorney and asked to be allowed to meet with him, saying he has not had the advice of a lawyer thus far.
New York police said on the same day they had not yet been cleared to interview Rahami and were waiting for doctors to confirm that he is well enough to be questioned.
The FBI also said that Rahami was arrested by police in New Jersey and remained in the custody of the state, not the federal government.
A US magistrate judge said he accepted that position late on September 21.
“The Government asserts unequivocally that the defendant ‘is not in federal custody,’” Judge Gabriel Gorenstein wrote in an order. “Whether there are federal authorities questioning defendant does not address the issue of custody.”
The judge said the timetable for when Rahami can meet with a public defender cannot be decided until the issue of custody is resolved.
Normally, a U.S. criminal defendant goes before a magistrate with little delay and, if too poor to afford a lawyer, appointed a lawyer at that first appearance or soon afterward, said Norman Lefstein, an Indiana University law professor.
“A person in this situation ought to have the capacity to confer with a lawyer. If the person had money, they would be able to talk to a lawyer,” Lefstein said.
The FBI also continued to search for two men who found a second, unexploded pressure cooker device that prosecutors say Rahami left in a piece of luggage in Chelsea on the night of September 17.
The two men, who took the bag but left the improvised bomb on the street, are not suspects, officials said, but investigators want to interview them as witnesses.
Investigators also looked into Rahami’s history of travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as for evidence he may have picked up radical views or been trained in bomb-making.
The attacks in New York and New Jersey were the latest in a series in the United States inspired by Islamic militant groups including al Qaeda and Islamic State.
A pair of ethnic Chechen brothers killed three people and injured more than 260 others at the Boston Marathon in 2013 with homemade pressure-cooker bombs similar to those used in this weekend’s attacks.
In June an Orlando gunman and in December 2015 a married couple in San Bernardino, California killed dozens in mass shootings inspired by Islamic State.