MANHATTAN FEDERAL COURT — The man accused of planting two bombs in Chelsea last year chose not to detonate the second bomb after he heard the first one go off, his lawyer argued Friday, while urging jurors to find him not guilty of three of the eight charges he faces.
The second, fifth and eighth counts Ahmad Khan Rahimi faces — attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, attempted destruction of property by means of fire or explosive and use of a destructive device during and in furtherance of a crime of violence — all relate to a bomb he left inside a rolling suitcase on West 27th Street, according to his federal indictment.
Prosecutors said two men inadvertently disabled the West 27th Street bomb by removing it from the suitcase, but defense attorney Sabrina Shroff maintained there was “no such evidence in this case" during closing arguments Friday morning.
“It is speculation from the government,” Shroff said, arguing that the government’s own evidence contradicted the story.
On the fourth day of Rahimi’s trial, a detective from the NYPD’s bomb squad provided testimony detailing how he and his team removed and dismantled the 27th Street bomb, Shroff recalled.
During his testimony, the detective described detaching a cellphone on the pressure cooker by snapping the wires that held the two together, Shroff said.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the wires had not been dislodged before then,” she argued. “It was then and only then that those wires were dislodged.”
Shroff went on to recall prosecutor Emil Bove’s closing argument Thursday, during which he described Rahimi as a “sophisticated bomb maker” who planned his attacks for months and carried them out with precision.
That evidence, however, would also show Mr. Rahimi “knew how to use a bomb if he wanted to,” Shroff argued.
“If the government is right in its claims of Mr. Rahimi being a sophisticated bomb maker with only evil in his heart … then he would have detonated the bomb on West 27th Street,” the defense attorney said.
Evidence presented by the government showed that Rahimi was still in the vicinity of West 23rd Street when that bomb went off, she noted.
“After he heard that explosion on 23rd Street … there were no more explosions,” she said. “That choice was made after he heard the blast on 23rd Street.”
Shroff also tried to discredit evidence the government presented based on an FBI examination of the cellphone attached to the 27th Street bomb.
Earlier in the week, an FBI agent testified that an alarm Rahimi set on the phone would have caused the bomb to detonate at 9 p.m., just minutes after the two men took it out of the suitcase, Shroff said.
That claim, however, was made after the FBI used an “unnamed software program written by the FBI” that wasn’t peer-reviewed or tested by any group other than the FBI to analyze the phone, she said.
“You just have to take their word for it,” she said, adding that it was possible the software “just didn’t get it right.”
Rahimi could have set the alarm on the phone attached to the West 27th Street bomb or even called or texted the phone to set the device off, his lawyer maintained.
Instead, he abandoned the bomb on West 27th Street and the second explosion never happened, she said.
“If you credit what Mr. Bove said to you, you must also credit evidence showing Mr. Rahimi knew how to use a bomb if he wanted to,” she told the jury. “The government cannot have it both ways.”
Rahimi also chose not to set off the bombs he carried back with him to New Jersey that were ultimately discovered at a train station in Elizabeth, the lawyer continued.
“If he really wanted to kill as many people as possible … he would not have passed up the opportunity to do so,” she said, arguing that the government failed to prove Rahimi intended to set off the West 27th Street bomb.
“Leaving the bomb on a street is not enough. Callousness, carelessness is not intent."
The fact that the bomb was capable of being used “does not mean that Mr. Rahimi intended to use it,” she added.
“You can despise Mr. Rahimi for doing something so heinous as leaving a bomb on a public street," Shroff said. “But leaving a bomb on a public street is not what counts two, five and eight of the indictment allege.”
Following Shroff's closing argument, federal prosecutor Andrew DeFilippis presented the government's rebuttal, calling Shroff’s claims “a cover story straight out of the al-Qaeda playbook.”
Rahimi walked away from the bomb he left on West 27th Street “so he wouldn’t get hurt while others bled,” DeFilippis said.
The defendant could have taken the bomb back with him to New Jersey, called 911 or “announced to the world” that he no longer wanted to carry out the attacks, but chose not to, he added.
“This was not cold feet — this was a cold and calculated attack,” he said. “Today, ladies and gentlemen, the defendant is trying to walk away one last time from that bomb on 27th Street.”
The jury was expected to begin its deliberations Friday afternoon.