NEW YORK — Federal investigators are hunting a man they said planted two explosives in rolling suitcases in Chelsea Saturday night, one of which detonated and injured 29 people, a two-state bomb spree, sources said Monday morning.
Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, an Afghanistan-born naturalized citizen who most recently lived with his family in Elizabeth, N.J., "should be considered armed and dangerous," according to sources and the FBI wanted poster released by officials Monday morning.
Rahami, who runs a website on which he posts his radical Islamist writings, can be seen in surveillance footage wheeling his homemade bombs in suitcases to 131 W. 23rd St. and Seventh Avenue between Sixth and Seventh avenues, sources said.
The West 23rd Street blast wounded 29 people, officials said.
After he dropped off both bags, video shows two men open the suitcase on Seventh Avenue and remove the pressure cooker bomb and put it in a trash bag, sources said. Investigators believe that in removing the device, they inadvertently disabled it and prevented another explosion, sources said.
Investigators don't believe the men, apparently scavengers, are connected to the bomber and simply wanted to take the suitcase, sources said.
Rahami is also believed to have planted bomb in Seaside Heights that exploded without injuring anyone, according to reports and the New Jersey State Police, who released surveillance photos of him.
Investigators used a phone attached to the disabled explosive on West 27th Street to track it back to Rahami's family, sources said. In reviewing photos of them, investigators recognized Rahami from surveillance footage taken near the Chelsea bombing scene, sources said.
Police spotted Rahami's family car Sunday and pulled them over on the Belt Parkway east of the Verrazano bridge about 10:30 p.m., sources said. They found people who were connected to Rahami in the car, but he wasn't there, sources said.
We did a traffic stop of a vehicle of interest in the investigation. No one has been charged with any crime. The investigation is continuing— FBI New York (@NewYorkFBI) September 19, 2016
Rahami lives with three brothers, a sister and their father in Elizabeth, according to sources, but it wasn't immediately clear if those five were the people in the car.
Investigators believe the family may have been heading to John F. Kennedy International Airport, sources said. They believe Rahami was still in the country Monday morning, sources said.
The traffic stop came hours after a backpack filled with explosives was found in the New Jersey Transit station in Elizabeth, officials said.
Two homeless men, again apparently scavengers, inside the station noticed the backpack inside a garbage can and opened it to see if anything valuable was inside, Elizabeth mayor Chris Bollwage told reporters.
When the men saw explosives and wires, they dropped the bag and called police, he said, Bollwage said.
A bomb robot tasked with disabling the bombs accidentally detonated one of them, he said.
“There was an intent to disarm the bomb and the intent to disarm it failed and therefore it exploded and two of the robots were damaged in the process,” Bollwage said.
He added that all the bomb fragments "are going to have to be picked up so the FBI can investigate them."
The bomb in the trash can wasn't attached to a cellphone or any kind of detonator, so investigators believe Rahami was trying to get rid of evidence, Bollwage said.
Sunday's discovery shut down train service along the Northeast Corridor overnight, and while service had been restored by the Monday morning rush hour, delays were expected to continue throughout the day Monday, officials said.
Rahami's family owns and operates First American Fried Chicken in Elizabeth, and had sued the city of Elizabeth in 2011 for forcing them to close early, which they claimed violated their civil rights, officials said.
The family wanted to keep their shop open for 24 hours and when the city ordered them to close, they argued they were being unfairly treated for being Muslim.
"They put that in their lawsuit, but the court dismissed all of that. That was not part of all of this. This had to do strictly with neighbors calling to complain about noise and code enforcement violations, it was never ethnicity or religion or beliefs or anything to do with that," said Bollwage said.
The family, who all traveled back to Afghanistan a few years ago, would regularly give out food when people didn't have money enough to pay, according to Flee Jones, 27, a friend who regularly played basketball with Rahami in the park.
"He was really religious [after the trip]," Jones said.
His renewed religious devotion also overshadowed old hobbies like his car, sources said.
"We used to joke that they were terrorists, but they never took it serious," the friend added.
Still, Jones couldn't believe his basketball opponent was a criminal, he said.
"It's a shock to me. I never would've expected this to happen. They're really nice. He was always friendly. This is really shocking," Jones added.