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The Globe and Mail

Suspect in New York, New Jersey bombings described as ‘very friendly’

Before his arrest, Ahmad Khan Rahami lived above a fried-chicken restaurant run by his family.

Mel Evans/AP

The family of Ahmad Khan Rahami runs a restaurant in Elizabeth, N.J., called First American Fried Chicken. Before his arrest on Monday morning, following a police shootout and on suspicion of planting a series of bombs in New York and New Jersey on the weekend, he lived in an apartment above the eatery.

While much is still unknown about Mr. Rahami – the 28-year-old accused of setting off an explosive device in New York's Chelsea neighbourhood that injured 29 people on Saturday – his family's restaurant seems to offer a window into his life in the U.S.

Its patriotic name and plain facade – a sign pictured in media reports offers "Burgers, B.B.Q. Ribs, Seafood, Subs, Ice Cream" – suggests a placid family business. Mr. Rahami was born in Afghanistan and came to the U.S. in 2000, according to ABC News. He has since become a citizen. The mayor of Elizabeth, Christian Bollwage, said the family opened the restaurant in 2002.

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Related: New York bombing suspect in custody: What we know (and don't know) so far

The restaurant also seems to have become a cause of discord between the Rahami family and the wider community in recent years. According to multiple reports, they sued the city of Elizabeth and its police department when the local government passed an ordinance requiring the establishment to close early after neighbours complained about its late operating hours.

Mr. Bollwage told reporters on Monday that the family had been keeping the business open 24 hours a day, and the city forced the business to close after 10 p.m.

But in their lawsuit, the Rahamis alleged harassment on the basis of their religion, national origin and race, according to the public-radio broadcaster NPR. The lawsuit alleged that a local man repeatedly entered the restaurant and told members of the family that "Muslims don't belong here" and "Muslims are trouble," according to They also allege that city officials discriminated against the restaurant and forced them to close early.

The lawsuit was terminated in 2012 after Ahmad Khan Rahami's father, Mohammad, pleaded guilty to blocking police from enforcing the restrictions on the restaurant, Associated Press reported.

Local media have reported that Mr. Rahami graduated in 2007 from high school in Edison, N.J., about 30 kilometres from Elizabeth. He had recently begun working more frequently at First American Fried Chicken, neighbours said.

"I come in here every week or two, just to get something to eat," local resident Ryan McCann told Associated Press. "He's always in there. He's a very friendly guy. That's what's so scary."

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The motive for Mr. Rahami's alleged bombing plot remains unclear, but New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has called the attacks an "act of terror."

A New Jersey radio station has reported that he has a history of arrests, for violating a domestic violence restraining order in 2012 and in 2014 for aggravated assault and unlawful possession of a weapon.

A childhood friend says that Mr. Rahami travelled to Afghanistan several years ago and was more serious and religious when he returned, Reuters has reported. But the friend, Flee Jones, said "I never knew him as the kind of person who would do anything like this."

William Sweeney Jr., assistant director of the FBI's New York division, said there was no evidence linking Mr. Rahami to a terrorist cell. Law-enforcement officers said there is no other suspect being sought in the Chelsea bombing, or the pipe bomb that was set off in Seaside Park, N.J., ahead of a Marine Corps charity run on Saturday.

Mr. Rahami was shot in a confrontation with police on Monday morning in Linden, N.J., near Elizabeth. Officers arrived after residents saw a man sleeping in the doorway of a bar. Mr. Rahami opened fire on the officers when they asked him to raise his hands.

In the melee, two officers were shot and injured.

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