In two separate cases, thieves snatching bags from a city street and a train station inadvertently helped law enforcement get the upper hand in a bomb spree that injured dozens of people and spans both sides of the Hudson River, sources said.
The day Ahmad Khan Rahami allegedly planted two bombs in Chelsea–one of which detonated on West 23rd Street–two thieves accidentally helped to disable his second pressure cooker bomb left inside a rolling suitcase on West 27th Street, sources said.
The young men, who sources described as being well-dressed, opened the bag and took the bomb out, sources said, before placing the explosive into a garbage bag and walking away with the rolling suitcase.
“Once they picked up the bag, they seemed incredulous. They had actually picked this up off the street and they walked off with it,” according to Robert Boyce, the NYPD’s Chief of Detectives, who was responding to a question about DNAinfo New York’s story.
Investigators believe they inadvertently disabled the explosive, sources said.
Since the bomb remained intact, it allowed investigators to examine the cellphone attached to the bomb and discover that it was connected to the family of Rahami.
They also found a website where Rahami allegedly posted jihadist missives, sources said.
Rahami, who was born in Afghanistan but lived in Elizabeth, New Jersey, had deposited the second bomb about four blocks away from the one that detonated and wounded 29 people on West 23rd Street, police said.
Then, on Sunday night, two homeless men snatched a backpack resting atop a trash can near a train station in Elizabeth, officials said.
“They probably thought there was something of value in that backpack,” said the mayor of Elizabeth, Christian Bollwage.
They started rooting through the bag and found five explosives that officials say are tied to Rahami, prompting them to immediately drop the bag in the middle of the street and alert police, officials said.
“When they opened it up and found the wire and the pipe they immediately walked around the other corner to Elizabeth police headquarters and turned it in,” Bollwage said.