Two potential bombing witnesses seen with suitcase are sought

AP Photo
AP Photo

NEW YORK — Investigators of last weekend’s bombings have released an image of two men who took a suitcase they found on a city street, possibly without realizing a wired pressure cooker they removed from it and left behind could have blown them to bits.

Police investigating the bombings in New York and New Jersey have been saying for several days they were looking for the men, who they stressed were being sought as potential witnesses in the case, not as suspects.

“They’re not in any jeopardy of being arrested,” Jim Watters, chief of the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism unit, said on Wednesday. “We have no reason to believe they’re connected.”

Federal prosecutors have charged Ahmad Khan Rahami with detonating a pipe bomb in a New Jersey shore town on Saturday morning and a pressure cooker bomb in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood later that night. Thirty-one people were injured in the New York blast. A second pressure cooker bomb left in Manhattan didn’t explode and is the subject of the latest public plea.

Prosecutors said surveillance video shows Rahami rolling a suitcase down the street, then abandoning it on the sidewalk where that second device was found.

A few minutes later, two men pass by the luggage and appear to admire it, police said. They then remove a pressure cooker from the luggage, leave the pressure cooker on the sidewalk and walk away with the luggage.

“I think they were more interested in the bag, not what they were taking out,” Watters said, adding that they were “very, very lucky” the bomb didn’t explode.

In court papers, a public defender sought a court appearance for Rahami, an Afghan-born U.S. citizen, so he can hear the federal terrorism charges against him.

Rahami, 28, was arrested on Monday following a shootout with police in Linden, New Jersey. He is being held on $5.2 million bail, and he faces state charges of attempted murder of police officers.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Rahami will be moved to New York to face federal charges in the “near future.”

In a bloodied journal recovered by investigators, Rahami made references to Osama bin Laden, American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and former Army officer Nidal Hasan, who went on a shooting rampage in Ford Hood, Texas, according to a federal complaint.

In one section, the complaint says, Rahami wrote: “Death to your oppression.”

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, touring the site of the Manhattan blast on Wednesday, said he believes insurance companies will cover most of the losses incurred by those whose businesses and homes were damaged. But he said if there are gaps in coverage, the state would pay for anything left outstanding from its emergency funds.

Also Wednesday, a homeless man who took a backpack from a garbage can near a train station in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on Sunday night, not knowing it contained pipe bombs prosecutors say were made by Rahami, said he’s grateful he didn’t prompt an explosion.

“I don’t like to think about what could have happened, but I’m just so blessed and glad it didn’t,” Lee Parker said. “I still have my nine lives, I guess, and I’m going to keep trying to live them well.”

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