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DNA Evidence Links Accused Chelsea Bomber to Explosive Devices, Expert Says

By Maya Rajamani | October 11, 2017 7:06pm
 Accused Chelsea bomber Ahmad Khan Rahimi.
Accused Chelsea bomber Ahmad Khan Rahimi.
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Office of the Union County Prosecutor

MANHATTAN FEDERAL COURT — Cellphones and a lighter found at the site in Chelsea and New Jersey where bombs were planted last year had DNA that matched the accused Chelsea bomber’s, an FBI analyst testified Wednesday.

A DNA sample collected from a cellphone found in Seaside Park, New Jersey — where Ahmad Khan Rahimi allegedly planted a pipe bomb on Sept. 17, 2016 — matched a DNA profile the FBI created for him, FBI forensic examiner Heather LaSalle testified on the sixth day of his trial.

Samples collected from a cellphone attached to a pressure-cooker bomb found on West 27th Street in Chelsea and a lighter found in a backpack in Elizabeth, New Jersey, that contained five pipe bombs matched the DNA of Rahimi and another person, added LaSalle, who was called by prosecutors to testify as an expert in DNA analysis. 

Jurors also heard from an FBI chemist and examiner who testified as an expert in the field of forensic chemical analysis Wednesday.

Swabs taken at the site of the West 23rd Street explosion — including three taken from a dumpster that was mangled by the blast — contained “compounds of interest” that can be found in explosives, including ammonium nitrate, FBI chemist Robert Mothershead testified.

A “dark powder” found in the device on West 27th Street — where Rahimi allegedly planted a bomb that never went off — and inside the pipe found in Seaside Park was consistent with a mixture known as “black powder,” or gunpowder, Mothershead said.

The three ingredients found in “black powder” were collected from a rock tumbler found in Rahimi’s home in New Jersey as well, he said.

The West 27th Street bomb also contained an explosive compound known as HMTD, he noted.

During Mothershead’s testimony, prosecutors presented the jury with files found on a laptop seized from Rahimi’s home, including a list of ingredients needed to make HMTD and photo instructions explaining how to mix the ingredients.

The jury on Wednesday also heard from a former West 25th Street resident named Jose Vasquez, who was taking his nightly walk around the neighborhood when the bomb on West 23rd Street went off.

Vasquez, who was knocked over by the blast, was treated for injuries to his elbow and wrist, he testified.

After the incident, his Parkinson’s symptoms worsened, he said, adding that he no longer takes his nightly strolls. 

“I don’t feel comfortable [anymore],” he explained.

Witnesses for the prosecutors are expected to wrap up their testimony Thursday morning, Judge Richard Berman said.