By Daniel Trotta
ELIZABETH, N.J. (Reuters) – An Afghan-born U.S. citizen accused of planting bombs in New York and New Jersey pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to New Jersey state charges, including attempted murder of police officers wounded in a shootout upon his arrest.
Ahmad Khan Rahimi, 28, appeared in the Union County Courthouse handcuffed in front with a protective vest, white skullcap and beard. His court-appointed lawyer pleaded not guilty to all charges on his behalf.
Rahimi also faces a host of federal charges in New York and New Jersey and a life sentence if convicted of setting off bombs in coastal New Jersey and in New York City in September and leaving behind others that failed to detonate. He pleaded not guilty to federal charges in New York in November.
Some 30 people were injured by the explosion of a homemade device place under a trash bin on a street in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Rahimi was arrested two days later in a shootout with police in Linden, New Jersey. He suffered multiple gunshot wounds and spent a month in the hospital under detention before being transferred to jail.
U.S. investigators have portrayed Rahimi as a jihadist who begged for martyrdom and praised Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Federal officials say Rahimi bought bomb components on eBay, made a video of himself testing out homemade explosives, and kept a journal expressing outrage at the U.S. “slaughter” of mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Palestine.
In New Jersey he faces a 30-count indictment including five counts of attempted murder of law enforcement officers, plus an array assault and weapons charges.
Rahimi became the target of a manhunt after the bombings and was spotted by a police officer in Linden outside a bar on the morning of Sept. 19. Rahimi used his handgun to shoot the officer in his protective vest, prosecutors allege.
An exchange of gunfire broke out as more police responded, and Rahimi was shot multiple times a few blocks away from where he was originally confronted, prosecutors said.
A second officer was wounded by a bullet fragment to the head but neither was seriously injured.
Rahimi had entered a preliminary not-guilty plea to the New Jersey state charges from his hospital bed by a courtroom video link in October.
Superior Court Judge Regina Caulfield had previously set bail for him at $5.2 million.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bill Trott)