US eyeing Afghan-born New York bomber’s foreign travel

Ahmad Khan Rahami was arrested on Monday in New Jersey after a gun battle with police.

FILE: This image released September 19, 2016 by the FBI shows Ahmad Khan Rahami. Picture: AFP.

LINDEN - US investigators sought clues on Tuesday to why an Afghan-born naturalised American citizen might have planted bombs in New York City and New Jersey over the weekend, including whether he had accomplices or was radicalised overseas.

"The investigation is active and ongoing, and it is being investigated as an act of terror," US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in Lexington, Kentucky.

Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, was arrested on Monday in Linden, New Jersey, after a gun battle with police.

Police were summoned by a neighbourhood bar owner who thought the bearded man sleeping against his closed tavern's front door in pouring rain resembled the bombing suspect.

Rahami, who lived in New Jersey, and two police officers were wounded in the exchange of gunfire.

The events put New York, the largest US city, on edge and fuelled a political debate about US security seven weeks before the presidential election, with candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton clashing once again on Monday about the threat posed by Islamic militants.

Rahami was suspected in weekend bombings, including a blast on Saturday night in New York's crowded Chelsea neighbourhood that wounded 29 people, and two in suburban New Jersey including one earlier on Saturday near a Marine Corps charity run in Seaside Park that caused no injuries.

He lived with family members above their storefront First American Fried Chicken restaurant in Elizabeth, New Jersey, near New York City.

Two US officials said Rahami had travelled to Afghanistan and to Quetta, Pakistan.

The official, and other US security sources, said Rahami underwent secondary screening upon returning from abroad but passed on every occasion.

One of the officials, who specialises in counter-terrorism, said the screening consisted of asking Rahami where he had gone and for what purpose.

"There could have been a more intensive holding and screening in that situation," US Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, told CNN.

"The problem is what happened next didn't really go into any depth."

Rahami's wife left the United States a few days before the bombings, CNN reported on Tuesday, citing a law enforcement source.

UNION COUNTY PROSECUTORS CHARGE RAHAMI

Authorities did not offer any immediate information on the possible motives of Rahami.

Union County prosecutors charged Rahami with five counts of attempted murder in the first degree and two second-degree weapons charges.

More charges were expected to be brought against Rahami in federal court.

He was listed in critical but stable condition as a result of his wounds, and police had not yet been able to interview him in depth, New York Police Department Commissioner James O'Neill said.

O'Neill, who was sworn in as commissioner on Monday, said he was encouraged that officers found Rahami hiding alone.

"It's a good sign that we found him in a doorway," O'Neill told "CBS This Morning."

"Hopefully that means he had nowhere to go."

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also called the Saturday night bombing "an act of terror."

Rahami is also suspected of planting a bomb that exploded on the New Jersey shore on Saturday, a device found near the New York blast, and up to six more devices found near the Elizabeth train station on Sunday night.

All of the people injured in Saturday night's blast in Manhattan have been released from hospitals.

Democratic US Representative Albio Sires, whose congressional district includes Elizabeth, said Rahami contacted his office in 2014 because he wanted help in facilitating his wife's immigration to the United States from Pakistan.

Sires told MSNBC on Monday, "At the time, she was pregnant. In Pakistan, they told her that she could not come over until she had the baby. But she had to get a visa for the baby."

Rahami had not previously been identified as dangerous, but Elizabeth police knew of his family because of late-night noise and crowd complaints at the fried-chicken restaurant.

The bombings and subsequent manhunt prompted even greater security in New York, a city already on high alert for a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations for the annual General Assembly this week. An additional 1,000 officers were deployed.

The blasts, the manhunt and an apparently unrelated stabbing attack in Minnesota over the weekend created tensions similar to those that followed other recent attacks, such as the mass shootings in Orlando and San Bernardino, California.

The Minnesota attacker was described a "soldier of the Islamic State," the militant group's news agency said. Lynch also said US authorities were investigating the stabbings "as an act of terrorism."