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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio, Commissioner O'Neill, and Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr. Hold Media Availability

September 19, 2016

Video available at:

Police Commissioner James O’Neill: Good afternoon, everyone. So with me today from NYPD is Tommy Galati, Bobby Boyce, Jimmy Waters, Carlos Gomez, Ben Tucker. We have Vanessa Gibson from the City Council; Cy Vance from the Manhattan DA’s Office; Preet Bharara from the Southern District; John Miller and Bill Sweeney from the FBI.

So it’s been an extremely busy two days, obviously. And many people have worked intensely, tirelessly, relentlessly, and seamlessly in this investigation into the bombings that occurred in New York City and New Jersey. It came out successful – so today our efforts were successful thanks to the brave police officers from the Linden, New Jersey Police Department. They captured this dangerous individual – Ahmad Khan Rahami, right here. However, in doing so, we had two police officers that were injured out in Linden, New Jersey, and I wish their best and hopefully a speedy recovery. This is another example of what law enforcement does every day. They put themselves in harm’s way to protect others, regardless of the risks.

And this all started on Saturday. When I went down to that scene on 23rd Street and see the devastation from the blast, and the response by not only NYPD – by the FBI, the ATF, the Fire Department, by EMS, Port Authority, the State Police. They all went to the danger. And from my first day on the job – it’s my first day on this job, but certainly not my first day on the job – I was just so proud of what I saw that day – the work that was done and how it was done together. All the agencies – just the level of cooperation was impressive.

We’re joined today, as I said, by the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York FBI Office Bill Sweeney. He’ll give you some details about the investigation, but you do need to understand that this case is very much active. It’s still very much active. Our primary focus has been to identify and apprehend a person responsible for these crimes. Now that we have this suspect in custody, the investigation can focus on other aspects, such as whether this individual acted alone and what his motivations may have been.

So before turning this over to Mayor de Blasio, I want to offer my personal thanks to everyone who worked so exceptionally in bringing this individual to justice. It’s a pretty tough way to start in my new position as Police Commissioner. But again, as I’ve always been, I’m so proud to be a member of this agency, the New York City Police Department. Mr. Mayor.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you very much, Commissioner. Well, I want to also say our first responders from the very beginning of this situation performed with extraordinary skill and courage. NYPD and all of the City agencies, our State partners, our federal partners – I want to thank them all. I also share a deep concern for the two officers in New Jersey, and we are hoping they will have a very speedy recovery.

This is a situation where we have rapidly unfolding information. You’re going to hear some from us now. I’m sure there will be a lot more to say in the coming days. As per usual, there are some things we’re not going to be able to talk about, and I want to say that upfront. But we’ll do our best to tell you what we can give you.

I want to also note upfront – I received a call a few hours ago from President Obama. He wanted me to tell the people of New York City how much he admired the resilience of the people of New York City, how our people handled this crisis from moment one with strength and resilience, and how it was so impressive that people were back to business yesterday and today. In addition, of course, the President offered his congratulations to our first responders for all they had done.

Now we have, as I said, a lot more information and it’s coming in all the time. We have so much more information, obviously, than we even had a few hours ago. Based on the information we have now, we have every reason to believe this was an act of terror. We will be going into some detail, and there is still a long investigation ahead. But now we have, as I said, every reason to believe this was an act of terror.

In addition, want to note that because this is an ongoing investigation, all New Yorkers should remain vigilant. At any given point, New Yorkers may find a piece of information, hear a conversation, see something that could very much aid the NYPD, the FBI, and our partners. Want all New Yorkers to be vigilant and to provide that information if you get it at any given point in time. A reminder – you call 1-8-0-0-5-7-7-T-I-P-S with any information you have.

We activated earlier today a messaging system used by our Office of Emergency Management. That allowed us to get information out to all New Yorkers across the board. And it had an extraordinary effect – also reached many people in the Metropolitan area. We were able to reach all of our police officers simultaneously because of the technology they have now as well. That is something that proved to be very helpful in this instance – getting that message out broadly, putting everyone on alert in a mutual way. We believe that was very helpful in this equation. But there is still information that we’ll need going forward. So I want people to be patient because it will be an ongoing investigation. I want people to be vigilant.

And finally, as I said, even though this suspect is apprehended, I’ve said over the last 24 hours, we will have a very strong and visible NYPD presence because of this incident and obviously because of the United Nations General Assembly. So you will continue to see throughout the week, a strong, visible NYPD presence, especially from our Critical Response Command, our Strategic Response Group. You will see heavily-trained officers and well-armed officers. You will see our officers in the subway, you will see bags being checked, bomb-sniffing dogs – that will continue throughout the week and we want that high-level of readiness of course from the NYPD.

So I ask all New Yorkers – continue your vigilance, continue to share information with law enforcement. And I want to thank Assistant Director Sweeney for the exceptional work and the great cooperation of the FBI in this matter.

Thank you.

Assistant Director in Charge of New York Division William F. Sweeney, Jr., FBI: Thank you, sir. Good afternoon. Since the last briefing we provided you yesterday, hundreds of personnel from the New York and Newark, New Jersey JTTFs, along with the NYPD Detective Bureau have been working around the clock developing and tracking leads, reviewing surveillance footage, employing sophisticated investigative techniques, and executing searches. Based on our evidence collection and supported by other analysis, the JTTFs began to focus on Ahmad Khan Rahami, working to develop his whereabouts and possible locations for surveillance.

Last night, the JTTF conducted a traffic stop of a vehicle near the Verrazano Bridge in Brooklyn. That vehicle had been observed by JTTF personnel at a location associated with Rahami. Based on the totality of circumstances, the JTTF executed a stop of that vehicle. The passengers in the car were questioned by JTTF agents and detectives. No one in that car is under arrest.

Based on our evidence collection, supported by other analysis, searches and interviews were conducted at residences in Elizabeth, New Jersey and in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Additional leads were followed as well. And we turned to the public this morning for assistance, initially using a more recent photo of Rahami.

A short time ago, as you know, Rahami was arrested in Linden, New Jersey. Two Linden police officers were injured while apprehending him, and our thoughts are with them, and we hope for their quick recovery.

We will continue to conduct investigative activity to ensure we completely understand Rahami’s social network. For that reason, I do not plan to answer specific questions about our techniques or our knowledge of the devices other than that we have directly linked Rahami to devices from New York and from Saturday in New Jersey. The work of the first responders, law enforcement personnel, and the contributions of an engaged public have been exceptional. Thank you.

Unknown: [Inaudible]

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Southern District of New York: So obviously, a lot has happened over the last 40 or so hours. I want to add my comments to those of those – the people standing behind me. Condolences to the officers and the victims in New York. I believe there’s going to be a charge, probably a [inaudible] based on the shooting of the officers in Linden, New Jersey by the local prosecutor there in Union County. While that is pending and the defendant is being held you can expect that the U.S. Attorney’s Office here and perhaps U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey will be working to put together as comprehensive and thorough a collection of allegations as makes sense. We are not rushing against each other to bring charges. We have all been racing together to try and catch the perpetrator here, and that’s now been done. But we’re going to take a lot of care and a lot of time to make sure if we bring charges federally in the Manhattan district court we do it in a way that’s careful and thorough.

Question: Thank you, do you have any knowledge if Mr. Rahami had trained overseas [inaudible] since you did say he’s been associated with ISIS in New York and New Jersey?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: We have no knowledge but the investigation continues.

Question: Do you know if there’s a connection yet with the [inaudible] New Jersey on Saturday? Are your ruling out last night [inaudible]?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: No we’re not ruling anything out. The investigations take a while. The evidence collection at different scenes takes some time. So we’re absolutely not ruling anything out.

Question: Who was in that car that you pulled over?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: I’m not going to comment on that.

Question: Could you please speak to whether there are terror cells now [inaudible]?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: Sure, the question about cells – I have no indication that there is a cell operating in the area or in the city. The investigation is ongoing, so as we develop more information we continue to go, but I have no indication that there is a cell operating here.

Question: For Sweeney, [inaudible] may have been [inaudible] triggered [inaudible] some civilians to call in [inaudible] this person?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: I believe it was a help. I don’t know that for fact myself, but I believe that’s what initiated the call to the Linden PD. But you would have to confirm that with New Jersey.

Question: [Inaudible] motive in terms of the area [inaudible]? Why this area targeted [inaudible] opportunity [inaudible]?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: No, I don’t have any information on that at all yet.

Question: For the Commissioner and for the FBI, the city has obviously invested a lot of money into sophisticated tools to [inaudible] like this. What were you able to use, whether it be facial recognition or surveillance cameras [inaudible]?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: I won’t comment on the types of tools we use, other than to say that the tools in the city are fabulous. They’re exceptional. They’re necessary. I leave the other comments to the Commissioner.

Commissioner O’Neill: So a lot of technology involved in this, but a lot of good old-fashioned police work, too. I mean between the FBI and the NYPD, the members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, this is a pretty quick turnaround. This happened 50 hours ago and we have our suspect in custody, so I think it’s a tremendous job by all involved. I think the alert system is very helpful to the Police Department and the FBI, and in this and in other instances also – it gets everybody involved. It’s that sense of shared responsibility. And there’s 36,000 of us, a number of FBI agents, but if we can get everybody in this city engaged in helping us keep it safe, I think this is the way to go. This is the future. Dean?

Question: The pressure cooker, how significant was that, in terms of gaining information [inaudible]? What did you gain from that pressure cooker? Was there any [inaudible] that helped you?

Commissioner O’Neill: Bill?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: I’m not going – I won’t comment specifically on something from the pressure cooker that lead us somewhere. Any piece of evidence that we obtained whether it’s a piece, a fragment, something whole is worthwhile, so I would leave it at that.

Question: Commissioner, was there any significant about the particular day on Saturday? That you knew of?

Commissioner O’Neill: Lisa, that’s all going to be part of the investigation – you know, what the motivation was. We don’t have that yet, and again, this is going to be part of as we go forward here.

Question: [Inaudible] there are any other bombers or bombs [inaudible]?

Commissioner O’Neill: Bill?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: I don’t – I don’t have information we’re actively looking for any kind of device at all, but we keep our options open and the investigation is ongoing so we’ll see what we see.

Question: [Inaudible]

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: There’s nothing to indicate that currently he was on our radar. We had a report of a domestic incident some time ago. That was – the allegations were recanted, and I don’t have any other information. We’ll keep digging.

Question: This is for Mayor de Blasio. I’m wondering was Governor Cuomo invited here and are you working with him? And also, do you [inaudible] that you guys haven’t really had a [inaudible] here?

Mayor: Yes, he was invited. Yes, we’re working with him. Obviously, we got together at the site yesterday and spoke to folks in the community. A lot of close coordination with the State, with the federal government, etcetera. And I think we’re all, you know, you can see the results of this kind of combined effort and as the Commissioner said including the people very deeply in helping us get to the solution here has made a huge difference here. A high level of coordination.

Question: So why didn’t he [inaudible]?

Mayor: You can ask his team about that.

Question: [Inaudible] is there any sense [inaudible]?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: I don’t have – I do not. The question about radicalization, I do not have information yet to show what the path of radicalization was. Your first question was about a record. To be honest, I currently do not recall what I read in the record. I’d have to get back to you.

Question: There was a remark, I think, by Donald Trump who said law enforcement officials should probably go back to some type of profiling in order to prevent things like this [inaudible]. I was wondering if [inaudible]?

Mayor: I think we right now are addressing a specific crisis, and I think even though it’s a perfectly fair question I don’t think we want to talk about partisan politics at this point. I would say I‘m very, very proud of the work of the NYPD and the FBI and the way they have so quickly found the suspect and the kind of cooperation that’s going on. So I have a lot of faith in law enforcement and how they do things right now.

Question: Commissioner and Mr. Mayor [inaudible] what New Yorkers want to know right now is what the chances are that there could be another device and what they should be looking for as they’re [inaudible].

Commissioner O’Neill: So, Marcia, at this point we are extremely grateful that we’re able to apprehend the suspect out in Linden, New Jersey. As I always say, we always have to be in a state of alert in New York City. We are the number one target in the world. But as far as this investigation and working again with the FBI I think I – I’m a lot happier today than I was yesterday, so I think all New Yorkers should feel secure that the NYPD and all the other law enforcement agencies in New York City will continue to keep them safe and will continue in this investigation to make sure that we get to know who was involved and why, which are the important things.

Mayor: Let me just add to that real quick. Marcia, first of all, there is no other individual we’re looking for at this point in time. That’s very important to answer your question. Second, vigilance is called for. And it’s very, very important if people see anything unusual, particularly an unattended package, that they report it immediately. Call it in or find a law enforcement officer, so I think the Commissioner is exactly right. We are very, very appreciative for all the men and women who did this work to get this suspect, but we want to remain vigilant.

Question: Can anybody give us [inaudible] fill in on the apprehension itself and also [inaudible] are you glad that the suspect survived the apprehension? How valuable is that?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: The apprehension – myself, I’m definitely much more relieved than I was last night. The fact that he survived is excellent both from an investigative value and from the fact that we didn’t lose a life.

Question: Can you talk about who he is? [Inaudible] Can you tell us who he is?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: No, I can’t tell you who is. We’re going to have to build out that whole picture, and I don’t have enough knowledge in my own head right now to fill that all out.

Question: [Inaudible] New Jersey for several years?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: In New Jersey most recently, but I would have to go back and look at address history, and I’m not in a position to do that right here.

Question: Can you tell us anything that may have found at his house, in his car, or on him that could suggest [inaudible] radicalization or his motive or his intent?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: No, not right now.

Question: New York Times, [inaudible]. Mr. Mayor, on the emergency alert – can you specific about how that was helpful in this case, given that he was caught in New Jersey? And then, I think that this was the first time it was used for a manhunt purpose like this. How was that situation [inaudible.]

Mayor: Several questions there obviously, we think it’s a very valuable tool. We think it created a lot of focus and urgency. Our law enforcement colleagues, including our colleagues in New Jersey, will be able to fill in the blanks for you on exactly what the positive effect was but from what we know right now it definitely contributed to the successful apprehension of this suspect. This is a tool we will use again in the future in similar situations. There obviously was an imminent threat, and it was a very appropriate situation in which to use it. And I think it is another example of the innovation that’s going on with NYPD and OEM that there was a way to reach people – different from the past, no more wanted posters on the precinct house wall. This is a modern approach that really engaged the whole community. So yes we will use it in the past. I think the reason it was used in this case was a specific potential danger and it made sense to do a very broad alert.

Question: Commissioner, the two gentlemen [inaudible] suitcase on 27th, found [inaudible] called it in?

Commissioner O’Neill: I’m going to let Chief Boyce talk about that.

Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce, NYPD: To answer your question, we identified – well, we have a video of – two persons who picked up the bag, took the device out of it and then walked off with the bag. Now we went back to see where they came from, they looked like they were two gentlemen just strolling up and down Seventh Avenue at the time. We have no information that would link them to this at all. However, we still want to talk to them, obviously. We’re considering them witnesses right now. Once they picked up the bag, they seemed incredulous they had actually picked this up off the street – and they walked off with it. So we’ll find out, we’ll put their images out. Hopefully we can get them identified.

Unknown: NJ Burkett, NJ Burkett.

Question: Yes, to clarify, just based on [inaudible] and based on what you know, do you believe this guy is actually the [inaudible]?

Commissioner O’Neill: That’s all going to be [inaudible]. Right now, we have who we need to have, and that’s – NJ, as we go forward in this investigation – that’s part of what we do. We’re going to talk to family, talk to friends, and see what the connections are. This is part of an investigation.

Question: So you’re not actively seeking an accomplice?

Commissioner O’Neill: Right now, we’re not actively seeking anyone.

Question: [inaudible] is there any indication that [inaudible]? Did they somehow struggle to [inaudible] –

Chief Boyce: Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s to be determined once we speak to them. It’s difficult to say right now if they had – at all, inadvertently, perhaps even – even pulled a wire. So that’s something for us, when we talk to them, when we go forward. Can’t say that now because I don’t know if they played a role or not.

Question: [inaudible] something that the undetonated [inaudible] device [inaudible] Central Park?

Chief Boyce: Again, with the Central Park, [inaudible]. From what we have now, from what we know now, two separate incidents. Completely two different devices, wholly different, alright? And a couple of months apart. So we’re always rethinking Central Park, because it’s a still-open case. The other question I can’t answer you, Mr. Sweeney might be able to answer that question.

Question: What would you say to [inaudible] the undetonated pressure cooker [inaudible]?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: No I’m not willing to say that. I’m not going to describe the device and how it would work.

Question: The five individuals that weren’t taken into custody last night, are they still in custody? Can you describe whether they could potentially still face charges?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: Five individuals from last night are not still in custody, and I’m not going to discuss what they could face in the potential future.

Question: For Mr. Sweeney or Commissioner O’Neill, did the suspect make any statements during or after his apprehension?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: The question is about, did the subject make any statements during the apprehension today? No. Not that I’m aware of, but New Jersey and the team from the Newark JTTF are out there, so that will continue as well.

Question: Commissioner O’Neill, how valuable were surveillance cameras in identifying Rahami and/or his associates? I mean there was surveillance cameras all over the place and some of the images made available to us –

Commissioner O’Neill: No that’s the world we’re living in now. Any street, any incident in New York City, you get to – most of the time – that gets captured on video surveillance. So as we go through the investigation, as we continue to gather more surveillance video, it’s going to help us move forward with this case and make sure that this suspect – this subject – is brought to justice and pays the maximum price.

Unknown: Two more questions [inaudible].

Question: Yes, I just want to ask: what kind of terrorism would [inaudible]? You could assume that this is probably the same thing [inaudible], and I’m wondering if you’re talking about fundamental [inaudible] terrorism and what specific criteria was here today that wasn’t present yesterday that makes you now willing to say this is terror?

Deputy Commissioner John Miller, Intelligence & Counterterrorism, NYPD: So, in understanding how to reach a terrorism charge in a criminal investigation, you have to understand the difference between – a bomb going off in a crowded street in New York City is a terrifying act – whether that’s an act of terrorism requires that you find out who did it, which is something we didn’t know at the early stages of yesterday – and then why they did it, in order to meet the statutory requirements. The basic definition of terrorism, on federal law side, is the use of fear, violence, or intimidation – or the threat of – to achieve political or social change. From the outset of this case, our first priority was to understand who was behind it, and to identify that person and bring that person into custody. Our ability to see through the rest of that [inaudible], which is – why they did it, what was behind it, and whether it was terrorism – required us first to understand who did it. The searches conducted last night, the interviews being conducted today, the broadening understanding about the suspect who’s in custody right now for the shooting of a police officer, or police officers, is going to be the part that brings the elements forward that will eventually result in a charge. And it will be laid out in those charging documents. So that’s kind of the process piece behind your question of how do you get from there to terrorism? And the amount of progress that was made in 24 hours, between the work of the JTTF, the Intel team, some extraordinary work by the Detective Bureau in terms of searching the number of people to do the video canvass in the immediate area, and then expand that out in concentric circles, to develop the elements that brought us to the identification of this person – were all the steps to get us there. So that’s a question that, as Bill Sweeney has said, it will be part of the investigation, but those pieces are still being gathered.

Question: [inaudible] can you say a little bit more about what leads you to believe that the explosion on 23rd Street and the explosion in Seaside Park are somehow linked [inaudible] given the differences in types of bombs that went off?

Assistant Director Sweeney, Jr.: The question is about how do we link the device at Seaside Park to the device in Jersey. The only thing I can say about how we do that is through evidence and analysis, and I can’t go beyond that.

Unknown: Thanks. Thank you everybody. Thanks folks.

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