An Afghan-born US citizen was shot by police and taken into custody on Monday in connection with weekend bombings in and around New York City that returned the issue of terrorism to centre stage of the US presidential campaign.
Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, had been wanted in connection with a Saturday night explosion in downtown Manhattan that wounded 29 people, and a blast Saturday morning in the New Jersey shore community of Seaside Park. Bill de Blasio, New York mayor, said: “We have every reason to believe this was an act of terror.”
Authorities earlier Monday had issued a picture of Mr Rahami and issued an unprecedented cell-phone alert to millions of people in the New York area after two homeless people found explosive devices the previous night in a backpack at a train station in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Mr Rahami’s family operates a restaurant called First American Fried Chicken in Elizabeth, a blue-collar community just outside New York.
Mr Rahami was apprehended a few hours later in neighbouring Linden, New Jersey. Police found him sleeping in the doorway of a bar. After being roused, Mr Rahami pulled a gun and began shooting, striking one officer in his bulletproof vest. Police returned fire, wounding Mr Rahami, who was then taken into custody. A second police officer was also injured in the incident, the authorities said.
Mr Rahami was charged by local prosecutors in New Jersey with attempted murder of a police officer and with unlawful possession of a weapon in connection with the Linden gun battle. Preet Bharara, the US attorney in Manhattan, said federal prosecutors “would be working to put together as comprehensive and thorough a collection of allegations as makes sense” in the case.
William Sweeney, who heads the FBI New York office, said Mr Rahami had been “directly linked” to the devices found in New York and New Jersey on Saturday. But he said investigators had “no indication” Mr Rahami was part of a terrorist cell operating in the New York area.
The attacks came after polls showed Republican Donald Trump pulling close to Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race and quickly stirred the debate over which of the two candidates was best equipped to respond to terrorism.
In a telephone interview with Fox News, Mr Trump said the US needed to allow local police forces to step up enforcement though an Israeli-style policy of “profiling” potential terrorists.
“Our local police, they know who a lot of these people are. They are afraid to do anything about it because they don’t want to be accused of profiling,” he said during an appearance on the morning chat show, Fox & Friends.
“In Israel, they profile. They have done an unbelievable job — as good as you can do,” Mr Trump added. “They see somebody that’s suspicious, they will profile. They will take that person in, they will check out. Do we have a choice?”
At a rally in Philadelphia, Mrs Clinton took an indirect swipe at Mr Trump, saying the incidents over the weekend were a “sobering reminder that we need steady leadership in a dangerous world.”
Earlier, she had told reporters the US needed to launch an “intelligence surge” to thwart potential attacks. “We need to work more closely with Silicon Valley and other partners to counter terrorist propaganda and recruitment efforts online,” Mrs Clinton said. “And it is crucial that we continue to build up trust between law enforcement and Muslim-American communities.”
President Barack Obama, in a press conference shortly before confirmation of Mr Rahami’s arrest, urged Americans “not to succumb” to the fear terrorists seek to instil.
Christian Bollwage, Elizabeth’s mayor, said the authorities had dealings with the Rahami family chicken restaurant because it was open all night, making a nuisance. “The city of Elizabeth just could not tolerate all the hours they were putting in and all the noise complaints, Mr Bollwage said.
The city council passed an ordinance limiting its hours to 10pm, prompting Mr Rahami’s family to unsuccessfully sue the city, the mayor said. “They were disruptive in the neighbourhood for many, many years,” he said.
In Elizabeth on Monday morning, federal agents with sniffer dogs were inside First American Fried Chicken, a storefront with pictures of sandwiches in the windows. Under a pouring rain, state troopers guarded the perimeter of the scene.
The neighbourhood in one of New Jersey’s biggest and oldest cities, a magnet for immigrants, is “peaceful,” said Nelly Costa, who has lived there 22 years. The blue awning of the chicken store is between a corner grocery and a shop providing phone cards and money transfers.
Andre Almeida, 24 years old, said he often bought cheese fries from First American. He called the chicken store “the munchie spot,” where people would go late at night after a night of partying. “If you needed to smoke at night, you’d come here and get something to roll with, your food, your fries.”
“You find out about this, and it’s really shocking,” he said. “You don’t expect someone who smiles at you one day to be doing all that crazy stuff on the side.”
The explosion in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighbourhood on Saturday night came just hours before Mr Obama and other world leaders gathered in the city for annual meetings at the UN.
A law enforcement official said the blast appeared to have come from a construction toolbox outside a building. Photos tweeted by the New York Police Department showed a dumpster truck that was apparently mangled by the explosion. Police subsequently discovered a second device a few blocks away that did not explode.
Hours before the New York explosion on Saturday night, a pipe bomb went off close to the route of a road race in Seaside Park, New Jersey. No injuries were reported, but the charity run was cancelled.