April 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Elizabeth Community Recovers After NJ/NY Bomber Sentenced

The “New Jersey Bomber,’” Ahmad Kahn Rahimi [aka Rahami], stood expressionless as the guilty verdict was handed down in the Daniel Patrick 

Moynihan United States Courthouse on Pearl Street in Manhattan, where his two-week trial concluded on October 16, 2017. He later left the courtroom smiling, following the announcement of the verdict convicting him on all eight counts of federal charges, including “offenses relating to execution and attempted execution of bombings in NYC on Sept 17, 2016.”

Rahimi appears to have lost over 50 pounds since the attacks, having survived his own serious wounds resulting from the shootout in Linden, New Jersey. His questioning in the aftermath was delayed because he underwent surgery for a bullet lodged in his liver, and he was unconscious for two weeks after the incident.

The video and photo testimony displayed during the trial was overwhelming. Hundreds of photos and video images were captured from numerous sources and locations, leaving a stunning trail of visual evidence detailing Rahimi’s travel from New Jersey to New York City, and within New Jersey and New York City. New Jersey Turnpike surveillance cameras showed his vehicle at a New Jersey toll plaza. New York City surveillance later captured Rahimi as he walked through the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan pulling the suitcases containing his bombs. He was seen depositing one on a sidewalk on 27th Street, and entering an alley area on 23rd Street with the other and later leaving without it. That bomb later exploded, injuring 30 people and damaging adjacent buildings and others across the street.

Rahimi’s fingerprints and DNA were found on the undetonated bombs. Equally compelling: Law enforcement officials found a blood-stained notebook with a bullet hole through it in Rahimi’s pocket when he was arrested after the shootout with Linden police two days later. The notebook was filled with plans and philosophical rants about his credo, including notes that read, “Bombs will be heard in the streets… gunshots to your police…”

The assistant federal defender, Sabrina Shroff, plans to appeal the case. While Shroff did express her compassion for the injured, she also said, “This was a difficult case for all of us, because we are all New Yorkers.” [AP]

Rahimi’s was arraigned in Union County Superior Court via video from his hospital bed, on charges of the attempted murder of five Linden police officers, and charged in the District of New Jersey in a complaint citing offenses connected with detonating explosives in Seaside Park and Elizabeth.

Sentencing from his trial in New York is set for January 2018. Several of the convictions carry a sentence of life in prison.

By the time the city of Elizabeth became the fourth site in this string of bombings, the FBI had already posted its official notice with a photo of Rahimi.

In an interview with The Jewish Link, Mayor Chris Bollwage of Elizabeth looked back on the incident that had occurred there one year earlier. The mayor expressed compliments and appreciation for the professionalism and effectiveness of the Elizabeth Police Department. Within an hour of receiving the first report of a suspicious backpack on Sunday, September 18, at around 9 p.m., the EPD initiated several actions simultaneously: The neighborhood was evacuated, the Union county bomb squad was called in, the FBI was contacted and the Union County prosecutor was alerted.

By 10 p.m. the police had contacted the mayor a second time to report that it was a real bomb, and all train traffic to and from Elizabeth was halted. Tracks, stations and trains were searched and cleared. The NJ Transit trains were operating again by 6 a.m. Monday.

The superintendent of public schools directed all custodial staff to search their respective schools, and later the decision to open schools on Monday morning was made by the mayor.

Meanwhile, the mayor joined the law enforcement agencies and the bomb squad outside the security area beneath the North Broad Street railroad trestle, where the Union County android bomb-defusing robot was busy at work on one of the six bombs found in that backpack. Fortunately, the bomb squad had separated the bombs and the others were safely detonated in a remote location. However, during the process of defusing this last bomb, it exploded, at around 12:30 a.m. on Monday, September 18.

The men who originally discovered and reported the backpack, Ivan White and Lee Parker, were each presented with a key to the City of Elizabeth by the city council in a ceremony one month later. A “GoFundMe” campaign was set up for them and they received special services from Linda Flores-Tober, executive director, The Elizabeth Coalition, to assist them with management of bank assets.

The Jewish Link also spoke with Lt. Chris Guenther, the public information officer from the Linden Police Department, around the first anniversary of the attacks. Guenther noted that Officer Angel Padilla had been struck in the front of his bullet-proof vest, and Investigator Peter Hammer was shot in the face. Investigator Mark Kahana and Officer David Guzman were also involved in the shootout. All officers received debriefing and counseling, but at the time of the interview, Padilla and Kahana had not yet returned to work. The officers were recognized by the National Association of Police with awards presented in May in Washington, DC, and received the Valor Award by the Union County 200 Club, a local police support organization.

Last year when The Jewish Link spoke with Steve Karp, executive director of the JEC in Elizabeth, he described the urgent and immediate security responses to the local bombing. He also outlined definitive plans for projected upgrades of security equipment, policies and personnel at all JEC facilities.

Karp reflected recently on the sequence of events last year, and elaborated on the upgrades implemented since then. “Things come to light to make us change our priorities,” said Karp. The JEC re-allocated funds to address the security priorities, and has made numerous modifications as a result of the proximity of these bombing incidents. Most obvious is the tall white fencing that now surrounds the entire front face of the JEC Lower School and RTMA building on Elmora Avenue. In addition, there are enhanced video surveillance cameras around the perimeter that provide protection both near the buildings and in a wide arc around them. Karp was proud to note that the JEC security system has even assisted the Elizabeth Police department in identifying offenders both in driving and accident incidents, as well as home invasions in the adjacent residential areas, because the cameras are “that good.”

Karp also pointed out that the high fence shields students—especially younger ones—from unnecessary exposure to speeding, road noise and accidents on Elmora Avenue. He complimented the parent body, whose cooperation with the new security measures has been vital to their implementation and success. Pickup and drop-off is monitored closely by the surveillance system, as well as by staff with walkie-talkies, to maximize communication and reduce response time in emergencies. While the classrooms used to have walkie-talkies as well, now each classroom has voice-activated, hands-free communication with the administrative offices for emergencies. As before, the schools continue to run regular training and drills for fire and other emergency situations, and Karp believes that everyone is taking these drills more seriously now: students, parents and staff.

Mayor Bollwage echoed that sentiment, noting that this incident reinforced the need for renewed awareness on the part of all citizens to be mindful of their surroundings at all times.

At this writing, the community and the court system await Rahimi’s sentencing in New York, and his two other trials in New Jersey.

By Ellie Wolf



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