National Security & Defense

Who Is Terrorist Bomber Ahmad Rahami?

Ahmad Khan Rahami in custody in Linden, N.J., September 1, 2016. (WABC-TV/Reuters)
The details of his biography follow a depressingly familiar pattern.

Lo and behold, it turns out that Ahmad Rahami, the 28-year-old naturalized citizen of Afghan descent who detonated bombs in New Jersey and New York City over the weekend, is exactly who you thought he was.

On Wednesday, authorities released excerpts from the journal that Rahami had on his person when he was captured, it being part of the terrorist’s stock-in-trade to keep a careful record of his jihadist musings, apparently. In one place, he rails against the U.S. government for its “slaught[er] against the mujahidean [sic] be it Afghanistan, Iraq, Sham [Syria], Palestine.” In another, he says that he has received clear guidance from terrorist leaders: “attack the Kuffar [non-believers] in their backyard.” He praises Osama bin Laden and expressed his desire to be a martyr. The journal closes with a prayer: “Inshallah [God willing] the sounds of the bombs will be heard in the streets. Gun shots to your police. Death To Your OPPRESSION.”

It’s almost as if Rahami were working off a checklist. Stereotypical rantings? Check.

But his whole life is that way. Unassimilated immigrant from the Middle East who loathes his adopted country and embraces a succoring narrative of American imperialism? Check. Multiple trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years (including a long stay in a Taliban stronghold)? Check. Radical personality transformation in the wake of those trips? Check. Violent toward his family and friends? Check. Spouse who coincidentally leaves the country just prior to her husband’s attack? Check. How obvious a terrorist was Ahmad Ramadi? His own father reported him to the FBI two years ago (though he later withdrew the report).

In other words, everything about Ahmad Rahami points to his being a terrorist. If you could purchase a generic-brand, off-the-shelf terrorist, Ahmad Rahami’s what you would get.

But here’s the thing: He’s like all the others. Terrorists are regularly violent toward people with whom they’re close. Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter, abused his first wife. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, half of the duo that bombed the Boston Marathon, beat his girlfriend. They’re openly anti-American. Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, was known to colleagues for having alarming opinions, and had “Soldier of Allah” on his business card. They’re usually known by family members to sympathize with terrorists. Tsarnaev and his mother chatted about jihad on the phone, and she wrote text messages (to a third party, apparently) about how he was ready to die for Islam. The father of Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters, told an Italian newspaper that his son “shared [ISIS leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi’s ideology, and supported the creation of the Islamic State.” (A representative from the Council on American-Islamic Relations later said Farook was “on medication” and “doesn’t recall saying that.”) And if you need still more connections, they’re not hard to find. Anwar al-Awlaki, the influential American-born cleric killed in an American drone strike in 2011, was praised by Rahami, was a source of inspiration to Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez (the Chattanooga shooter), and was a personal friend to Hasan.

Sense a pattern?

#related#And yet: Every new attack by Islamist terrorists is accompanied by calls to wait, slow down, not jump to conclusions — which is eminently reasonable as events unfold, but which is now more often than not nothing more than a mantra leaders unwilling to confront our growing problem use to avoid ever having to come to any conclusion. Omar Mateen called 9-1-1 in order to tell the dispatcher, “I pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. May God protect him, on behalf of the Islamic State,” and Loretta Lynch still said, “I cannot tell you definitively that we will ever narrow it down to one motivation.” It’s a miracle she didn’t invoke “workplace violence.”

There is a time and a place for subtle distinctions, for disentangling the many fine threads of motivation within the human heart. But what we’ve found — again and again and again — is that the people who try to stab or shoot or blow up Americans en masse share one big, obvious, crucial similarity. It’s time to acknowledge it, and respond accordingly.


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