MANHATTAN (CN) – The man accused of placing a series of bombs around New York City and New Jersey last year was ejected from opening statements at his trial Monday morning for making an unintelligible outburst.
Ahmad Rahimi, 29, is described by his own attorneys as having mental health issues, but neither side has disputed his fitness to stand trial, which kicked off before a jury this morning in Manhattan.
Though U.S. Judge Richard Berman ordered Rahimi removed after his outburst, allowing the prosecution to deliver their opening statement without interruption, he then excused the jury and summoned Rahimi back in.
Rahimi told Berman that he has been denied visitation rights with his wife and children, and wanted the court to address that issue.
“The only frustration I’ve been having with the BOP and the prosecution is why they won’t let me have a family visit,” Rahimi explained, using the abbreviation for Bureau of Prisons.
“This thing has a stretched out so long, this was my last resort,” Rahimi added.
Berman called it “a little unsettling” that Rahimi chose one minute before trial to raise his concern, rather than at his dozens of pretrial hearings.
It “would have been very easy to raise an issue during any one of those proceedings,” Berman added.
An Afghanistan-born U.S. citizen Rahimi has been in custody since his arrest on Sept. 19, 2016, outside a Linden bar where Rahimi had been sleeping in the doorway.
Rahimi has pleaded not guilty to charges that he planted five homemade devices, the first of which went off two days earlier, along the route of charity 5K race in Seaside Park, New Jersey. Hours later, in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, another pressure-cooker bomb blew up inside of a Dumpster, blowing out nearby windows but causing no serious injuries.
Speaking directly to the defendant, Berman told Rahimi: “your counsel has raised every other issue for you … and they never raised this visitation issue with me.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Shawn Crowley focused her opening statement on the chaos that erupted when “a massive explosion tore through 23rd Street.”
“BBs and metal shrapnel ripped through people’s flesh,” Crowley said.
It “took down scaffoldings, knocked paintings off walls, and it had been planted by the defendant Ahmad Khan Rahimi.”
While planting his bombs, Crowley noted, Rahimi carried a notebook that included his confession of “exactly what he did and why he did it.”
This book shows that Rahimi was inspired by Osama bin Laden, the Islamic State group and other terrorists who propose an ideology of “holy war on Americans,” Crowley said.
She told the jury that Rahimi “followed their written step-by-step instructions.”
“New Jersey and New York City were his battlegrounds,” Crowley added.
Fulfilling a request put to the court just last week, Crowley also promised the jury a full view of the evidence.
“We’ll show you the Dumpster that was launched more than a hundred feet,” Crowley said.
Crowley also described the more-than 40 fingerprint matches that investigators collected from Rahimi’s devices, including the undetonated bombs, cellphone detonators and on the “layers and layers of tape that he used to hold his bombs together.”
Extensive surveillance video evidence meanwhile shows “nearly every stage of the defendant’s attacks captured on video,” Crowley said.
The prosecution also promised to show jurors what investigators found on Rahimi’s electronic devices, text messages joking about bombings in advance of the attacks, videos of backyard bomb tests, and propaganda videos saved on his computer.
Defense attorney Meghan Gilligan kept her opening statement brief, focusing on humanizing Rahimi as a married father of three, entitled to the presumption of innocence.
Gilligan told jurors that the government’s “parade of witnesses” might feel tiresome, and that they should expect “questions of reliability” of certain witnesses.
Rahimi also faces a separate trial in New Jersey’s Union County Superior Court on attempted-murder charges stemming from the police shootout outside Merdie’s Tavern that resulted in his arrest.
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