His father, Mohammed, is known as a leader in the Muslim community; a mosque member describes him as ‘very friendly’
By ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS and TED MANN
The Wall Street Journal
Updated Sept. 21, 2016 6:36 p.m. ET
ELIZABETH, N.J.—Mohammed Rahami is known as a leader in the Muslim community here and serves on the board of a local mosque. But few in the Muslim community recall his son, Ahmad, who faces charges linked to a blast in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
This is the blooded and bullet-ridden notebook found on Ahmad Rahami when he was arrested on Monday. The notebook contains passages referencing ISIS and al Qaeda, and is helping authorities paint a picture of the suspected New York City bomber. Photo: AP.
Neighbors and members of the elder Mr. Rahami’s mosque, the Muslim Community Center of Union County, described him as a friendly man, willing to extend a greeting but not delve into deep conversation. No members interviewed at Muslim Community Center this week said they remember Ahmad Rahami as ever attending the mosque.
As a board member of the mosque, Mr. Rahami voted on administrative questions, such as constructing a fence around the parking lot, said another board member.
“He is very friendly,” said Muhammad Arshad, a 72-year-old board member who came to the mosque on Wednesday for a noon prayer. He said when the board came together to vote the elder Rahami had a “very logical opinion.”
Mr. Arshad said Mr. Rahami never spoke of Ahmad, and he only saw him come with a younger son. He said Mr. Rahami seldom socialized, but this isn’t uncommon. “Prayer is about 10 minutes at most,” he said. “Ten or 15 minutes and everyone is busy and leaves.”
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Officials suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami, who was caught after a shootout with police on Monday, is responsible for bombs in New Jersey and New York City. What’s known about him? Photo: Reuters.
Imam Fakhruddin Alvi said he only remembered Mohammed Rahami as someone who would regularly pray at the mosque. He said he never had a one-on-one conversation with him. “All I can say is he used to come and perform his prayer and leave,” he said.
Mike Hilts and Rich Hart, both of Magie Auto Repair, which sits directly across the street from the mosque, said they saw Ahmad Rahami attend the mosque from time to time with his father and brothers for years, including within the past three months.
Mr. Hart said that while a teenage brother was friendly, Ahmad wasn’t one to converse. “He definitely wasn’t friendly,” he said. “He didn’t come up and say hi or how you doing.”
Mr. Hilts said the elder Rahami and the younger son were very friendly. He said the teenager once called him when his car broke down and asked him to pick up his younger sister at a nearby elementary school.
Ahmad Rahami sometimes attended the Muslim Community of New Jersey mosque in nearby Fords, N.J., according to some worshipers. Imam Asif Hirani, who led the mosque from 2012 to 2015, said he doesn’t remember him and couldn’t believe he was part of the mosque’s community.
The mosque, about 14 miles away from Elizabeth, never hosts “radical speakers,” Mr. Hirani said in a phone call from Pakistan, where he was visiting. He said it has “kept a very calm environment.”
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Those who do remember Ahmad Rahami said he didn’t stand out among the hundreds of congregants, worshipers said, sliding in for prayers and slipping out afterward without sticking around.
Javid Barakzai, who grew up with Mr. Rahami, said he saw him at the mosque in Fords more than a week ago, and he looked like “a normal human just going to pray.”
For Muslim leaders in Elizabeth, the charges against Ahmad Rahami have brought home a frustrating challenge: how religious community leaders can be expected to identify and thwart evil intent among fellow worshipers who are increasingly unlikely to share their feelings, even in the mosque, or masjid.
Revelations of surveillance of mosques over the years since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have led many Muslims to assume they are being monitored even while praying, said Hassen Abdellah, president of the Dar-ul-Islam mosque in Elizabeth. The result is that someone planning an attack would be unlikely to speak about it at a mosque or with an imam.
“Most Muslims believe most masjids are filled with informants or police officers anyway,” Mr. Abdellah said.
Islam encourages the faithful to seek guidance from an imam in times of crisis, he said, but for those tempted to turn to extremism or terrorism, “it’s now the last place they’re going to come.”
Write to Ted Mann at email@example.com
Flagged Two Times in 2014, Ahmad Rahami Passed Scrutiny
When Ahmad Khan Rahami returned in March 2014 from a nearly yearlong trip to Pakistan, he was flagged by customs officials, who pulled him out for a secondary screening. Still concerned about his travel, they notified the National Targeting Center, a federal agency that assesses potential threats, two law enforcement officials said.
It was one of thousands of such notifications every year, and a report on Mr. Rahami was passed along to the F.B.I. and other intelligence agencies.
Five months later, when Mr. Rahami’s father told the police after a domestic dispute that he was concerned about his son having terrorist sympathies, federal agents again examined his travel history. And again, despite Mr. Rahami’s now having been flagged twice for scrutiny, the concerns were not found to warrant a deeper inquiry, one of the law enforcement officials said. Ahmad Rahami was not interviewed by federal agents.
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