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Investigators Focus On Bombing Suspsect's Motivation, Inspiration

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The key suspect in this weekend's bombings in New York and New Jersey, Ahmad Khan Rahami, was cornered, wounded and then captured yesterday. Investigators are now focusing on his possible motive. They're also very curious to learn about his international travel. Let's talk more about this with NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston, who's on the line. Dina, good morning.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So after a pretty tense weekend, I mean, things ended with - with a lot of drama yesterday in Linden, N.J., it sounds like.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, there was this dramatic shootout with police in which two officers were injured. And Rahami was taken to a New Jersey hospital to be treated for gunshot wounds that he had. He was charged overnight with five counts of attempted murder for trying to kill the police officers who had found him sleeping in this doorway of a bar in New Jersey yesterday morning.

GREENE: He was, like, napping in the doorway, and I guess they woke him up, and he was ready to start - to start firing at them.

TEMPLE-RASTON: He just pulled out a gun and immediately shot a police officer, who was rousing him, in the abdomen. And he had a bulletproof vest on, so - the police officer did - so he wasn't too badly injured. And now, officials are questioning his brothers and his father to see if they can shed some light on what might have motivated him or if they had helped him in some way with the attacks.

GREENE: Well Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City said this was an act of terror, which, I mean, that's language that - that certainly can grab some attention. Do officials think there was some group behind this? Was he acting just alone or possibly with his family? What do they know so far?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, there are a couple of interesting clues that sources tell us police and the FBI are tracking. The first is that there was a note that was found in a plastic bag that was covering the pressure-cooker bomb that failed to go off in Manhattan. That's the one that was on 27th Street, about four blocks from the bomb that did go off and injure a couple dozen people on Saturday night.

GREENE: Right.

TEMPLE-RASTON: So in that note, they found mentions of the Boston Marathon bombers. And investigators are looking for patterns to see if Rahami might have been working this as a kind of copycat attack or if he shared some ideology with - with the bombers - those bombers in Boston.

GREENE: You and I talked yesterday that the Boston Marathon bombs - pressure cookers, as well, as you described. I mean, are there other similarities between these attacks and what happened in Boston?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes. It goes well beyond the devices. The pressure-cooker bombs that Rahami is suspected of making had a different, much more powerful explosive than the Boston devices. It had a more sophisticated detonator and firing system. But it's the personal story of Rahami that reveals similarities. He's an American of Afghan descent who had gone back to Afghanistan and Pakistan frequently.

He spent a lot of times - a lot of time in areas where there are violent Islamist groups. You may remember that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother in the Boston bombings, had traveled back to Dagestan.

GREENE: Yeah.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's the Russian province in the far south of the country. And then he tried to join the fight there before he returned to attack in the U.S. some time later. Rahami appears to have stayed almost a year in Quetta, which is the city in Pakistan right on the border with Afghanistan. And that's where the ruling council or Shura Council of the Afghan Taliban is based. Al-Qaida has a presence there, too. And he also spent time in Karachi, where the Pakistani Taliban has a huge presence. So investigators haven't drawn any conclusions about that yet or about his motive, but clearly these trips are an area of focus.

GREENE: I mean, and it sounds like, I mean, they might be curious that he got some sort of military training with these groups if he spent time there.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. Well, investigators haven't found conclusive evidence that he did so, but they told me that the bombs he made were so sophisticated that they may well have required some sort of training. I mean, his devices actually went off, which suggests some practice. I mean, they may be pressure cookers, but that's where the similarity to Boston ends. And there's some perplexing things about the case.

You know, why did he pick the targets he did? The Times Square bomber in 2010, who had trained in Pakistan, he picked Times Square because of its symbolism. But what's the symbolism of an alley on 23rd Street...

GREENE: Yeah.

TEMPLE-RASTON: ...One of the targets that Rahami chose? So they're trying to pull that all together to try to figure out what it was that he - what motivated him and who he might be connected to.

GREENE: OK, learning more - as much as we can - from NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston. Thanks so much, Dina.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.