By David Ingram and Joseph Ax
NEW YORK/ELIZABETH, N.J. (Reuters) – Long before the FBI made Ahmad Rahami notorious as a suspect in this weekend’s bombings around New York, his family was well known in Elizabeth, New Jersey, for frequent skirmishes with neighbors over its fried chicken restaurant.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation plans to question Rahami, a 28-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Afghanistan, in the bombings that wounded 29 people in New York City on Saturday, as well as other devices that exploded in New Jersey without causing injury.
Rahami was taken into custody in Linden, New Jersey, about 20 miles (32 km) outside New York, after an exchange of gunfire with police officers on Monday.
Rahami was not listed on U.S. counterterrorism databases, three U.S. officials told Reuters. But he was well known to Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage for the frequent complaints about noise at the family’s restaurant, on a commercial strip of a racially diverse, working-class neighborhood.
“The suspect was not on the radar of local law enforcement, but the fried chicken place that … the family owned, we had some code enforcement problems and noise complaints,” Bollwage told reporters.
His father, Mohammed Rahami, registered the business as Khan Fried Chicken in 2006, but four years later changed the name to First American Fried Chicken, citing “popularity,” according to state records.
The family lived above the store, which is wedged between a beauty salon and a shop advertising money transfers and computer help. On Monday authorities cordoned off an area around the building and were removing boxes. Officers were on the restaurant’s roof, going in and out of the residence, and one officer leaned out of a window, taking pictures.
The restaurant’s employees were serious and businesslike, rarely interacting with customers more than they had to, said Josh Sanchez, 24, and Jessica Casanova, 23, who called themselves frequent customers.
By 2008, Elizabeth police were battling with First American Fried Chicken over the restaurant’s 24-hour schedule. A city ordinance barred take-out stores from staying open past 10 p.m.
The restaurant was cited, and although the family appealed the decision, a New Jersey appeals court ruled against the family in 2014, according to records.
A lawyer who represented the Rahami family in the dispute could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The family filed a lawsuit around 2010, claiming they were being discriminated against, Bollwage said, adding that the city’s actions involving the restaurant were in no way related to the family’s religion or ethnic origin.
Rahami traveled to Afghanistan several years ago and afterward grew a beard and began wearing religious clothing, Flee Jones, a childhood friend, told Reuters.
The reason for the trip and its full impact on Rahami was not immediately known, but Jones said Rahami became more serious and quiet. Jones said he learned about the travel from one of Rahami’s brothers and last saw Rahami about two years ago.
“He was way more religious,” Jones said, adding, “I never knew him as the kind of person who would do anything like this.”
(Reporting by David Ingram in New York and Joseph Ax in Elizabeth, New Jersey; Additional reporting by Julia Harte, Mark Hosenball and Julia Edwards in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Alan Crosby)