Matt Blake et al., Daily Mail (London), April 16, 2013
The Saudi student who was detained for ‘acting suspiciously’ at the marathon finish line has been ruled out as a suspect by federal officials and is said to be a witness helping police with their inquiries.
Detectives and bomb disposal officers raided Abdulrahman Ali Alharbi’s apartment last night in the Revere area of Boston and could be seen removing several bags of evidence, though he was not charged with anything.
The 22-year-old, who is studying English, is still in hospital after suffering from serious burns and is said to be cooperating fully with authorities. He was tackled to the ground by a civilian who believed he was acting suspiciously.
Saudi official’s at the country’s embassy in Washington also said that the man was being questioned as a witness only.
The Saudi official cited information provided to the embassy by U.S. law enforcement officials.
‘We’re not aware of any Saudi suspect or Saudi person of interest,’ said the Saudi official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the preliminary nature of the information.
The Saudi student said he had been at dinner with friends the night before and was at the marathon simply because he ‘wanted to see the end of the race’.
One of his two flat mates, who would only give his name as Mohamed Bada, told the MailOnline: ‘He is a sweet kid, a kind person. He would not do this or hurt anyone.’
He described him as a devout Muslim and a soccer fan who is from the city of Medina in Saudi Arabia.
He is attending an English language school in greater Boston, the roommate said, adding that he last saw him on Sunday.
The roommate said: ‘I know he went to the marathon yesterday but I don’t know what happened because I had gone out elsewhere to get drunk.
‘When I came home the police were at our apartment. They asked lots of questions. Then the FBI and other officers came. They took some clothes away and searched everything.
‘My roommate is a student, he has been living here for five months. I am not telling you his name because it is not fair to him.’
It is not clear if agents found anything in the raid, but Revere fire officials said they were called out to support bomb-squad officers as part of the investigation of the ‘person of interest’.
Other residents in the smart 13-storey complex said three young men lived in a fifth floor apartment.
‘There are a lot of rumors floating about. This is a building that has been packed with people from the Middle East in recent years – it is a very popular area with Saudi students,’ said Gita Lopez, who lives in one of the adjoining six blocks in the complex that is known as Water’s Edge.
Staff at the building’s leasing office refused to comment on the suspect or his friends. But one said: ‘We are co-operating fully with the police.’
Jim Sudmeier, a 75-year-old medical researcher, said he went down in the elevator from his 10th floor apartment to see what was going on.
‘On the fifth floor there were between five and eight hulking men in black with baseball caps,’ he said. ‘I was told they were FBI or AFT. They just stared me out, so I pushed the elevator button to go back to my apartment. Outside there were agents everywhere. No one would say what they were doing. My neighbors are all talking about the boys on the fifth floor.
‘I don’t know them because people are constantly moving in and out of this place.’
‘Both areas had blue mail boxes at the exact spots where the bombs went off. I am sure the postal boxes had something to do with it.
‘To me this smacks of home-grown terrorism – someone wanting to make a point about Patriots Day or something.’
But other neighbors pointed to Boston’s role in the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks.
Brothers Hamza and Ahmed Ghamdi spent their last four nights hiding out at hotels in nearby Cambridge before hijacking Flight 175 moments after take off from Boston’s Logan Airport.
The bombs had been placed in six-liter pressure cookers packed with ball bearings and nails and placed in black duffel bags, it was revealed today.
They were likely detonated by timers, though this has not been confirmed.
The U.S. government has warned federal agencies in the past that pressure cookers have been used in various parts of the world to make bombs.
A Department of Homeland Security memo called it ‘a technique commonly taught in Afghan terrorist training camps’.
‘Typically, these bombs are made by placing TNT or other explosives in a pressure cooker and attaching a blasting cap at the top of the pressure cooker,’ the memo said.
Terrorism expert Jeffrey Beatty spoke to CNN and said they are often used by Taliban and al Qaeda militants to make IED’s but stressed: ‘That doesn’t mean it was the Taliban — other people can read about this.’
Today President Obama once again addressed the nation about the bombs, which killed three and left more than 170 injured, and confirmed it was an ‘act of terror’.
He admitted they did not know who was behind it or why, if it was an international or domestic organization, or perhaps a ‘malevolent individual’.
He lauded the response of the runners, spectators and first responders in the wake of the attack.
‘If you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil, that is it: selflessly, compassionately, unafraid,’ he said.
Obama said investigators ‘don’t have a sense of motivation yet’ as they begin to evaluate the attack but despite the atrocity of it, he declared: ‘The American people refuse to be terrorized.’
Richard DesLauriers, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston Division, said: ‘We will go to the ends of the Earth to identify the subject or subjects who are responsible for this despicable crime — and we will do everything we can to bring them to justice.
‘Our mission is clear: to bring to justice those responsible…The American public wants answers. The citizens of the city of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts want and deserve answers.’
He said investigators had received ‘voluminous tips’ and were interviewing witnesses and analyzing the crime scene.
Gov Deval Patrick said that contrary to earlier reports, no unexploded bombs were found. He said the only explosives were the ones that went off.
At Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, investigators seized the Saudi student’s clothes to examine whether they held any evidence that he was behind the attack, which is being called the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.
On Tuesday, police sources told the Associated Press the bombs were made from pressure cookers filled with metal.
When they exploded around 2.50pm, they left victims covered in as many as 40 wounds each and attacked their lower extremities, leaving many needing amputations.
Witnesses described seeing body parts flying through the air and shoes that ‘still had flesh in them’.
Law sources told the New York Post that after the man was grabbed by police, he smelled of gun powder and said, ‘I thought there would be a second bomb’ before asking, ‘Did anyone die?’
The Saudi man was tackled by a bystander by the scene who thought he was acting suspiciously.
Investigators were seen leaving the scene with brown paper evidence bags, trash bags and a duffel bag.
A law enforcement source told CBS: ‘They see him running away from the device. Now, a reasonable person would be running away. But this person had noticed him before. This is a civilian — chases him down, tackles him, turns him over to the Boston police.
‘The individual is being looked at [and] was suffering from burn injury. That means this person was pretty close to wherever this blast went off, but not so close as to suffer the serious injuries that other people did.’
Though many patients were treated for minor cuts and scrapes, doctors have also been ‘pulling ball bearings and projectiles out of people in the emergency room’.
It was reported today that the bombs were in pressure cookers inside black duffel bags and were designed to propel shrapnel and shards of metal.
Rep Pete King, a Long Island republican who chairs the house counterterrorism subcommittee told ABC news that the bombings had ‘all the trademarks of an al Qaeda attack’.
Defense secretary Chuck Hagel today called the bombings a ‘cruel act of terror’ and said it will be ‘approached as an act of terror’.
Police had said earlier on Monday that they were searching for a ‘dark-skinned or black male’ wearing a dark-colored hooded sweatshirt and a backpack in connection with the twin explosions.
Five minutes before the first explosion, officials said the hooded man attempted to gain entry to a restricted area but was turned away. Authorities say he may be a foreign national, based on his accent.
Other reports suggested one line of inquiry was an individual caught on camera before the attack carrying multiple backpacks into the area 20 minutes before the deadly blasts.
Separately, pictures of a man in handcuffs surrounded by law enforcement officials circulated Twitter on Monday evening. But authorities didn’t identify the man or say whether his arrest was related to the blasts or if it was the ‘Saudi national’.
‘At this time, we haven’t been notified of any arrests or anyone apprehended,’ a police spokesperson said.
It came as police were believed to be looking at whether bombs were planted in trashcans along the route.
One of the runners said there were a number of bomb-sniffing dogs at the start and finish line, which he thought was odd.
University of Mobile’s Cross Country Coach Ali Stevenson told Local 15: ‘They kept making announcements to the participants do not worry, it’s just a training exercise.’
He said the presence of law enforcement spotters on the roof at the start of the race also made the seasoned marathoner suspect police must have had some threat or suspicion called in.
But government officials deny this and say there were no warnings of any kind.
Stevenson had just finished the marathon before the explosions. His wife had been sitting in one of the seating sections where an explosion went off, but she had left her seat and was walking to meet up with him.
At Massachusetts General Hospital, Alasdair Conn, chief of emergency services, said: ‘This is something I’ve never seen in my 25 years here … this amount of carnage in the civilian population. This is what we expect from war.’
As police scurried to find leads that would lead them to the culprits, speculation grew that it looked more like a right-wing terrorist attack rather than al Qaeda-inspired extremism.
Richard Barrett, the former United Nations co-ordinator for the al Qaeda and Taliban monitoring team, said the timing of the attack on Patriots’ Day and the relatively small size of the devices suggested the work of a domestic extremist.
But Mr Barrett, who has served with MI5, MI6 and the Foreign Office, said: ‘This happened on Patriots’ Day, it is also the day Americans are supposed to have their taxes in, and Boston is quite a symbolic city. These are all little indicators.’
He added that it was still too early to confidently say who was to blame.
His comments came after U.S. supercop Bill Bratton, a former head of Boston police who is now based in London, warned there are ‘no shortage of potential suspects’ behind the explosions.
Counter terrorism expert Rick Nelson, of the Center for Strategic & International Studies, said the number of co-ordinated blasts suggested a ‘complexity’ that would be difficult for an individual to carry out alone.
‘It was perhaps not one person but a group who were involved,’ he said. ‘The location suggests they were looking for maximum media value so that the explosions were caught by television cameras.’
The two blasts on Monday went off almost concurrently near the finish line of the marathon.
Police initially said a third blast occurred at the John F.Kennedy Presidential Library but later reported it as an unrelated fire.
Cell phone service was shut down across the area to prevent any potential remote detonations as police feared there were secondary devices.
Police were in a desperate race against time to find any additional devices and said the task had been complicated by the items discarded by spectators fleeing the scene.
Multiple reports were flooding in in the moments after the attack, saying there were devices reported outside Harvard and other sites along the marathon route. But today it was confirmed that there were only two devices.
Massachusetts General Hospital, where 22 victims of the bomb blast are being treated, was forced into lock-down for about two hours after a suspicious package was reported in the parking garage across the street.
Bomb sniffing dogs from the Rhode Island State Police, SWAT officers from the Boston police department and bomb squad officers searched the entire parking structure, floor-by-floor.
Authorities found one bag, but determined it was not a threat and contained nothing suspicious.
As the investigation continued into Monday night, all off-duty officers in the city were called back on duty and dog units were sent in to help the emergency response.
The scene of the blasts will remain cordoned off for at least 24 hours as forensic work continues.
Police were pleading with onlookers to head home over fears the dangers remained in the downtown area of the city.
NBC reported that the devices which caused the blasts were ‘small homemade bombs’ as the FBI referred it as a ‘terrorist attack’.
Police departments across the country including San Francisco and New York have been put on heightened alert.
Today, a plane was brought back to the gate at Logan airport after two passengers on board were speaking Arabic and people grew concerned.
In London security will now be assessed ahead of the marathon being held there on Sunday.
A no-fly zone was temporarily introduced over the city and has now been lifted.
Runners still on the course were being bussed out yesterday as officers began the hard task of trying to work out who would cause such an attack.
U.S. President Barack Obama was notified and directed his administration to provide whatever assistance was necessary, the White House said.
No groups have claimed credit for the attack and officials say no intelligence alerted them to a threat prior to the marathon.