By Joseph Ax and Mica Rosenberg
ELIZABETH, N.J. (Reuters) – Police arrested an Afghanistan-born American suspected of carrying out this weekend’s bombing in New York City that injured 29 people and planting other devices in New York and New Jersey following a Monday morning gun battle with the suspect.
Two law enforcement officers were wounded in the gunfight, as was Ahmad Khan Rahami, a 28-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The suspect was taken by ambulance to a local hospital following his capture in Linden, New Jersey, about 20 miles (32 km) outside New York.
The attacks came as world leaders prepared to gather at the United Nations in New York for the annual General Assembly this week, just days after the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
There was no immediate evidence as to what motivated the bombings and there was no indication that an extremist cell was operating in the area, William Sweeney, an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, told a news conference in New York.
“There is no other individual we’re looking for at this point in time,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told the same news conference as he called on New Yorkers to remain vigilant in the aftermath of the incidents.
Sweeney said five suspects taken into custody late on Sunday in Brooklyn after they had been observed in a car at a location associated with Rahami had been released without charge.
The United States has seen a series of large-scale attacks, including mass shootings in Orlando, Florida, and San Bernardino, California, over the past year.
“Yesterday there was no hint of any connection with foreign terrorism…. But there may very well turn out to be a link to foreign terrorist organizations, and that we’ll find out today or in the coming days,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters on Monday.
GUNFIGHT IN NEW JERSEY
Police in Linden received a call about a man sleeping in a doorway and when one officer, who recognized the person as the bombing suspect, tried to rouse him, Rahami opened fire and hit the officer in the abdomen. The officer was wearing a bullet-proof vest, said Linden Police Captain James Sarnicki.
Rahami also fired through the windshield of a patrol car, wounding another officer. Neither officer is thought to have life-threatening injuries, he said.
Earlier on Monday, New York police had released a photo of Rahami and said they wanted to question him about the explosion Saturday night in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood as well as a blast earlier that day in Seaside Park, New Jersey.
In addition to the two incidents, officials are probing a backpack containing bombs found in a New Jersey train station on Sunday, and an unexploded pressure-cooker bomb located blocks away from the Chelsea blast site.
No one was injured in the other blasts.
As reports of Rahami being taken in custody were being released, U.S. President Barack Obama said he saw no connection between the explosions and a separate weekend incident where a man stabbed nine people at a mall in central Minnesota before being shot dead.
He said authorities are investigating the stabbing as a potential act of terrorism.
The man in the Minnesota incident, who has not been officially identified, was described a “soldier of the Islamic State,” the militant group’s news agency said on Sunday.
“The FBI is investigating the Minnesota incident as a potential act of terrorism. We will direct the full resources of the federal government to make sure that the investigation goes forward aggressively,” Obama said.
Before the suspect was captured, the two U.S. presidential candidates weighed in on the New York bombing.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said the United States needed to work with its allies to combat global terrorism and that the country should launch an “intelligence surge” to detect attacks before they are carried out.
“This is a fast-moving situation and a sobering reminder that we need steady leadership in a dangerous world,” she said.
Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has based much of his campaign message on arguing that the United States is no longer safe and that he alone can protect the nation, told Fox News on Monday morning that he expects more attacks.
“Yeah, because we’ve been weak. Our country’s been weak,” he said when asked if he thought there would be more attacks.
Federal authorities believe that the explosion in Chelsea, where another explosive device was found nearby, was linked to as many as six explosive devices found just outside New York in Elizabeth, Homeland Security officials told Reuters.
No one was injured in the Saturday morning explosion along the route of a running race in Seaside Park, about 60 miles (97 km) south of Manhattan, New Jersey State Police said.
The raid in Elizabeth came hours after an explosive device left near a train station there blew up when a bomb squad robot cut a wire on the mechanism. It was one of as many as five potential bombs found at the site, Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage told reporters.
(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, Julia Edwards, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Roberta Rampton and Hilary Russ in New York; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Scott Malone and Alan Crosby)