Customs agency notified FBI, other agencies about Rahami’s overseas travel

Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, is the suspect of the Chelsea explosion in New York City on Saturday, September 17, 2016.

Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, is the suspect of the Chelsea explosion in New York City on Saturday, September 17, 2016.

Customs and Border Protection officers put information about Ahmad Khan Rahami into a shared law enforcement agency database and sent a notice about him after interviewing Rahami at the airport when he returned from a year-long trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2014, a US law enforcement official told CNN Tuesday.

Rahami was flagged for secondary screening when he came back from the trip. It was not the first time Customs and Border Protection agents had pulled him aside for extra scrutiny after traveling to that region.

The official said the information he provided about visiting his family was put into a database that can be accessed by other law enforcement agencies, noting this is routine procedure. Additionally, the official says Customs and Border Protection sent a report about Rahami to the FBI and other agencies in 2014 as someone who investigators should be aware of given his travel and the amount of time spent in areas associated with terrorist groups.

A federal law enforcement official familiar with the information sent to the FBI said Rahami’s information was part of a bulletin regarding a “batch” of people who traveled to high-risk areas.

“He was not singled out,” the official said.

The notice was sent to the FBI before August 2014, when the FBI was alerted by a tip that Rahami’s father called him a terrorist. The FBI would have had access to the information when they investigated the tip. Eventually the case was closed after the father downplayed the concern.

The official cautioned these bulletins are “pretty common.” A senior law enforcement official estimated that “several dozens” of these individual reports are produced a week.

If Rahami had raised red flags during the actual interview FBI investigators would have been brought in for further questioning of him right there in the airport, the first official said. That did not happen, the official noted.

The official explained that it was not what Rahami said in interview but the fact he’d traveled multiple times to this region of concern that prompted the bulletin

The official said Rahami had certain rights as a naturalized US citizen and as a result could not be held longer unless there was good reason.

The senior law enforcement official, explaining the process for secondary screening, said if additional concerns are raised during secondary screening, two additional steps can be taken. An interagency report with information about the traveler can be sent forward immediately to law enforcement and intelligence agencies or the information can be integrated into the Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center’s weekly report.

If the concern is more serious, the screeners can refer the traveler to an investigation by the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the FBI. Representatives from the task force are co-located at airports like JFK and Newark due to the high volume of travelers that are a concern.