Concerns about New York and New Jersey bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami's intentions were raised to authorities by his father and a neighbor more than once over the past years, ABC News has learned.
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Two years ago, Rahami's father told the FBI that his son was interacting with "bad people" overseas and a concerned citizen in the neighborhood told authorities that Rahami's associates may have been trying to procure explosives, sources told ABC News.
The FBI first became aware of Rahami in the summer of 2014, when local law enforcement contacted the agency's New Jersey field office about him, sources said.
A dispute at the Rahami home had brought local law enforcement to the house at that time. A neighbor told the authorities he overheard Rahami's father calling his son a "terrorist," according to a U.S. official. In addition, the neighbor said Rahami’s father had expressed concern his son may be in contact with people overseas who were collecting explosives, ABC news was told.
The FBI then opened a so-called "Guardian" file on Rahami, initiating a process to determine whether Rahami had any links to terrorism or other criminal activity and whether a more formal investigation was warranted.
The assessment of Rahami produced no clear evidence or indications of radicalization, and at one point his father recanted his claims, sources said. Rahami was not placed on any U.S. terrorism watch lists.
Speaking to reporters today outside of his New Jersey home, Rahami's father said he "called the FBI two years ago" about his son.
"I told them you got a connection with this guy," he said, without offering any further information.
The FBI interviewed Rahami’s father after New Jersey officials compiled complaints and sent them a suspicious activity report. He told the FBI that his son had traveled to Pakistan and was interacting with "bad people," according to sources. Rahami's father also told the FBI his son had injured and beaten members of his immediate family -- but a grand jury declined to file charges against him.
However, Rahami's father later told the FBI he didn't mean to suggest his son was a terrorist, but that he was hanging out with "undesirables," the U.S. official said.
At a press conference Monday, the head of the FBI's field office in New York, Bill Sweeney, noted that the FBI had previously received "a report of a domestic incident," adding that "the allegations [were] recanted." However, Sweeney did not address terrorism-related allegations.
It’s unclear if the FBI or other law enforcement agencies interviewed Rahami in 2014.
As in most suspicious activity report cases they review, the FBI found no significant derogatory information in Rahami's case, sources told ABC News.
In a statement today, the FBI acknowledged that in August 2014 they "initiated an assessment of Ahmad Rahami based upon comments made by his father after a domestic dispute that were subsequently reported to authorities."
"The FBI conducted internal database reviews, interagency checks, and multiple interviews -- none of which revealed ties to terrorism," the statement said.
One source emphasized that only a single report came to authorities related to Rahami. Had more reports come in, authorities would have looked further at him, the source said, adding that the FBI does not have the resources to put every subject of a suspicious activity report under full-time surveillance.
"We should not be keeping people under surveillance indefinitely" when there is no solid reason, another U.S. official said, adding that doing so would violate Constitutional rights.
"Our job together is to find those needles in a hay stack," FBI Director James Comey recently told lawmakers. "In fact, our job is harder than that, it's to find pieces of hay in that haystack that may become a needle and disrupt them before they move from consuming to acting on that [online] poisonous propaganda."
The FBI’s ability to assess potential terrorists came under intense scrutiny after Florida native Omar Mateen opened fire in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in June, killing 49 people and injuring scores more.
In May 2013 the FBI had obtained sufficient information to open a preliminary investigation into Mateen — coworkers told authorities that Mateen had made terrorism-related comments at work. But after ten months of investigation, including two interviews with Mateen, the FBI determined there wasn’t enough information to indicate he was "possibly a terrorist," as FBI Director James Comey put it after the Orlando attack.
Two months later, in July 2014, the FBI took another look at Mateen because his name "surfaced" in a separate terrorism investigation, Comey told reporters. Mateen was interviewed again, but authorities found no reason to continue tracking him.