Rahami: Jersey boy, Afghan, criminal, deadbeat dad, lost friend
ELIZABETH — A few days ago, 28-year-old Ahmad Khan Rahami of Elizabeth was off law enforcement's radar.
He'd had run-ins with the law, but nothing approaching the accusations now against him — that he left bombs in three locations, injuring dozens and disrupting life throughout New York and New Jersey.
At worst, to law enforcement, he was a thug and deadbeat dad, accused of stabbing a relative in the leg and violating a restraining order. His family business had a tense relationship with Elizabeth officials — accusing them of anti-Muslim discrimination as they clashed over code enforcement matters.
The Afghan-born, naturalized U.S. Citizen, who came to America as a child, was simply known to many New Jersey residents in his social circles as a friend and classmate — but one who'd gone through serious changes over the last decade.
Rahami had been a 2007 graduate of Edison High School, according to multiple reports. According to Rochester-based 98.9 The Buzz, one of its DJs, Chris Koya, attended school with Rahami.
"Nothing out of the ordinary," Konya told ABC affiliate WHAM in Rochester. "We remember him being well-dressed, and when he did talk, it was not abrasive; it was funny."
Koya described Rahami as someone who blended in — and said he couldn't believe an apparent transformation to someone who'd inflict terror after less than 10 years. He cited Rahami's time overseas after high school, and said he'd lost track of Rahami over the years.
"It's a complete mystery of what happened to Ahmad between graduating in the summer of 2007 and last weekend," Konya said.
Before Edison, Rahami attended Columbia High School in Maplewood, NBC News reported.
"He definitely didn't seem like the kind of guy you would think would do something like this," a classmate told NBC News. It "would have been more believable if someone told me he had a comedy gig rather than the things he's in the news for."
NBC also reported he attended Middlesex Community College from 2010 to 2012 as a criminal justice major but did not graduate.
Radicalized in Pakistan, Afghanistan?
According to the NBC report, citing an unnamed U.S. intelligence official, after graduating in 2007, Rahami began traveling to Pakistan for unknown reasons.
In 2014, he sent an email to Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J., seeking help moving his pregnant Pakistani wife to the United States because her passport had expired. It's not clear if she ever came to America.
"I assumed she did" get the visa," Sires told MSNBC's Meet the Press Daily.
He also said of Rahami's tone: "He was kind of nasty, too."
Rahami also reportedly visited Afghanistan, spending several weeks in Kandahar in 2011, CNN reported, citing a law enforcement officer who'd reviewed his record. In 2013, he went back to Pakistan and spent nearly a year there.
Authorities are reportedly investigating whether he was radicalized during his trips, before returning to the United States in 2014. CNN also reported that while he was questioned when he returned to the United States, officials said he satisfied whatever concerns immigration officials had.
The United States granted the family asylum in 2011 — the same year Rahami's family filed a lawsuit against Elizabeth, claiming it targeted them as Muslims when it passed a law limiting the family's chicken restaurant's hours.
Violent criminal, deadbeat father?
According to a report by NJ Advance Media citing court records, Rahami was sued for child support in 2008 by the mother of his daughter, now 9, records show.
The mother of his child told Fox News Monday Rahami didn’t pay child support and “seemed standoffish to American culture.”
“He would speak often of Western culture and how it was different back home. How there weren’t homosexuals in Afghanistan,” she told Fox News. The two had attended high school together.
And as reported by New Jersey 101.5 Monday, Rahami, 28, was arrested in Elizabeth in February 2012 on a charge of contempt for allegedly violating a domestic violence restraining order, according to court records. The charge was eventually downgraded and heard in Family Court. It’s not clear what the final disposition was.
More recently, on Aug. 25, 2014, he was arrested in Elizabeth in connection with an alleged offense that happened three days earlier. He was charged with aggravated assault with attempt to cause bodily injury, unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes. A Union County grand jury in January 2015 declined to indict him, records show.
According to a report by the Daily News, those charges were for allegedly attacking his sister with a knife, but she later recanted. Rahami spent two months in jail, according to that report.
NJ Advance Media reports he was also accused of possessing a firearm he intended to use against her. That report only describes the victim of the assault as a relative, not specifically Rahami's sister.
At the time, his address was listed as Harbor Terrace in Perth Amboy, not in Elizabeth.
Another person at his last known address on Elmora Avenue in Elizabeth, Najiba Rahami, 51, was arrested in 2010 on child abuse charges. Those were dismissed in 2011 after she completed a pre-trial intervention program.
Friend tuned closed off
A childhood friend of Rahami's, Flee Jones, told New Jersey 101.5 the two often played sports together at a local park. Jones and friends would visit the First American Fried Chicken location Rahami’s family owned for food and drinks.
“It’s shocking to me, definitely shocking to me,” Jones, of Elizabeth, said. “He used to let us chill inside the chicken shack and have rap battles, and he always gave us free food with no problem.”
After Rahami disappeared for his overseas trips, Jones said, he returned "more quiet and more mature."
Jones said Rahami had become “more religious” — but he doesn’t want to suggest that’s a bad thing.
The New York Times, also quoting Jones and others who knew Rahami, said he'd undergone a transformation. He grew a beard, and his wardrobe of T-Shirts and sweatpants had been replaced by traditional Muslim robes.
“It’s like he was a completely different person,” Jones said. “He got serious and completely closed off.”
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