Chelsea Bomber Sentenced to Life in Prison |

Chelsea Bomber Sentenced to Life in Prison

An aerial view of W. 23rd St. (btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.) shows damage from the bombing of Sept. 17, 2016. | File photo courtesy US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of NY

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | Ahmad Khan Rahimi was sentenced to life in prison for planting two bombs in Chelsea in 2016 — one on W. 23rd St. that exploded, injured 31 people and damaged buildings and property.

Rahimi, 30, was found guilty in October of all eight federal counts stemming from that Saturday night bombing, and for another device that he planted on W. 27th St. that did not go off due to two men who disturbed the device, Chelsea resident Jane Schreibman’s vigilance, and law enforcement efforts.

The sentencing, scheduled to start at 11 a.m. on Tues., Feb. 13, began a little later as US District Judge Richard Berman, who has presided over the case since the beginning, waited for victims of the bombing — many of whom testified during the two-week trial — to get to court.

“They certainly have the right — like everybody else — to be here,” he said.

Victims — like Chelsea resident Helena Ayeh — had described what it was like that evening on Sept. 17, 2016 when a pressure cooker bomb Rahimi placed on W. 23rd St. (btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.) went off and sent a 100-pound dumpster and shrapnel flying. Ayeh, who was fearful she had lost an eye but did not, testified that the explosion was like “The heavens had opened and fallen down.”

Berman explained the factors and sentencing guidelines that went into his decision. While he explained he was no longer obligated by mandatory sentencing, Berman nonetheless gave Rahimi the statutory maximums — life in prison for counts one through three, 40 years for count four, 20 years for counts five and six, to be served concurrently. Rahimi was given an additional life sentence for count eight, and 30 years for count seven to be served consecutively.

Berman said the sentence was appropriate given the “the heinous and life threatening nature” of the crimes, and the “scheming and extensive preparation to kill innocent people.”

There have been twists and turns since Rahimi’s conviction last year that led to a new attorney, Xavier Donaldson, to be appointed his counsel. Prosecutors alleged in a letter filed with the court in December that Rahimi was trying to radicalize fellow inmates at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center with terrorist propaganda.

On Dec. 29, Federal Defenders’ Sabrina Shroff, who was Rahimi’s lawyer throughout the trial, cited an “unwaverable conflict” — she was at the time also representing the inmate Rahimi allegedly was radicalizing — and could no longer represent him, Berman said.

Donaldson argued in his letter to the court that Rahimi should get 180 months — 15 years — for counts one through six. Berman said there was no legal or factual basis to support that sentence.

Berman also went through some aspects of Rahimi’s background. The Elizabeth, New Jersey man was born in Kandahar, Afghanistan, came to the United States in 1995, and became a naturalized US citizen in 2011. After high school, Rahimi studied criminal justice at college with his eye on becoming a police officer. The married father of three dropped out of college and ended up at one point working 60 hours a week at Kennedy Fried Chicken and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Prosecutors said Rahimi became radicalized sometime in 2012, and a few years later began Internet searches for books on jihad, bomb-making techniques, and downloaded issues of Inspire — the English language magazine of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that had articles such as “Make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom.”

Berman noted that he had granted Rahimi’s request of religious observance for court to be cut short on Fridays during the October trial, and that “it appears during some of those prayer sessions” was when the exchange of terrorist propaganda happened.

When it was his turn to address the court, Rahimi did not apologize.

“I didn’t come here harboring any hatred toward anyone,” said Rahimi, who immigrated when he was seven. “I didn’t grow up hating anyone.”

Rahimi commended his father, saying, “It was always work hard and educate yourself.” Rahimi also claims his father went to law enforcement on multiple occasions and “did his best to quell everything down.”

NBC New York reported the day before the sentencing that Mohammad Rahimi said he went to the FBI in 2014 about “concerns that his son could be a terrorist” — a claim that an FBI official disputed in a Sept. 23, 2016 Associated Press article.

Video evidence in day five of Ahmad Khan Rahimi’s Oct. 2017 trial shows him on Seventh Ave. on the night of the Sept. 17, 2016 bombing, carrying a suitcase containing what prosecutors said was a pressure cooker bomb. | File photo courtesy US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of NY

Rahimi said that once he became a practicing Muslim, he was harassed by the FBI when he traveled. He also disputed that he was radicalizing his fellow inmates, saying that Sajmir Alimehmeti — a Bronx man accused of providing material support to ISIS — was radicalized not in prison but by the FBI.

Assistant US District Attorney Shawn Crowley said, “Mr. Rahimi stood there and blamed everyone else for his actions. That is ridiculous.”

She added, “He has shown no remorse. He is unrepentant. He feels no sympathy for his victims.”

Rahimi “made light of his attacks,” prosecutors said in a letter filed on Jan. 16. “For example, during a call with a family member while trial was proceeding, the defendant bragged: [Another inmate] asked me how are we going to watch the news and I told him I don’t need to watch the news because I am the news [Laughs].”

Berman also ordered that Rahimi pay $562,803.03 in restitution to victims of the bombing, which include Helena Ayeh, businesses on W. 23rd St. that sustained substantial damage due to the blast such as Orangetheory Fitness and the Townhouse Inn of Chelsea, as well as Selis Manor, a residence for the blind, visually impaired, and those with physical disabilities that was undergoing renovations.

Rahimi also faces charges in New Jersey for a bomb he allegedly placed in Seaside Park, NJ before a charity race — that exploded but did not injure anyone — allegedly placing pipe bombs at an Elizabeth, NJ train station, and for a shootout that took place when he was arrested two days after the bombing.