Just before his arrest, New Jersey State Police on Monday morning released several images of Rahami, including surveillance footage.
And FBI agents spent Monday morning searching the home of Rahami’s family — an address on Elmora Avenue in the city of Elizabeth, which is six miles south of Newark. The home is about a mile away from New Jersey Transit’s Elizabeth station. Court records show members of the Rahami family live and work at the address. A restaurant called “First American Fried Chicken” is also on the ground floor of the same structure.
According to neighbors and court records, the family has run the fried chicken restaurant for years.
It was a local late-night hangout, said one neighbor, Andre Almeida, 24, who lives down the street and often ate there at night.
The family seemed fairly Westernized, Almeida said. Three or four years ago, he said, he noticed that the family started wearing religious garb and stopped wearing Western clothes.
But, he said, he never felt like they had animosity toward other people.
A childhood friend of Rahami said he used to play basketball with him at a court a few blocks from the family’s restaurant.
“I was shocked to see his picture. I said, ‘No, not Mohammed’s son.’ They were really nice,” said Flee Jones, 27. Jones said the family’s restaurant often gave him water and free food.
He and Ahmad used to do rap battles at the restaurant and hang out there late. He said the family nicknamed Ahmad “Med.”
Court records show that several members of the Rahami family have owned and operated the American Fried Chicken at the address searched by the FBI on Monday since 2002. It is unclear when Ahmad Rahami lived there or what role — if any — he had in the business.
In 2011, the Rahami family sued the city of Elizabeth and several police officers, alleging they had been inappropriately cited for keeping their business open past 10 p.m. and harassed by police. They claimed a man in the neighborhood told them, “You are Muslims” and “Muslims make too much trouble in this country” and complained unfairly to law enforcement, who singled them out “solely on animus against [their] religion, creed, race and national origin,” according to court records.
In one instance, they alleged, two Rahami family members were actually arrested for attempting to record a conversation with officers.
A business owner across the street from the fried chicken place called the family “outcasts.”
“They were angry,” said Marcella Perrotti, who owns a hair salon. Perrotti described Elizabeth as a small town with a tightknit community but said the Rahami family stayed well outside of it.
“Never would I think in a million years that something like this would happen here,” she said.
In a 2005 bankruptcy filing, the patriarch of the family, Mohammed Rahami described himself as the father of eight children and separated from his wife. He listed himself as a cook at a fried chicken restaurant with an income of $1,447 a month.
Law enforcement officials said they were investigating whether Ahmad Rahami could have been influenced by international militant groups or the ongoing conflict in his homeland.
Zapotosky and Wan reported from Washington. Julie Tate contributed to this report.