Someone Has This Wrong

There are two versions of a story out this morning about a terrorism assessment opened on Ahmad Rahami in 2014, after his father called him a “terrorist.” But they’re significantly, even critically different.

The Times version is that Ahmad was involved in some sort of violent domestic incident in his home. When police came to the scene, father Mohammad Rahami told officers his son was a “terrorist.” This news was relied to federal authorities. They opened an investigation. But when they returned to interview Mohammad, he recanted his earlier accusation. From the Times story, that’s where the trail seemed to end.

About an hour ago NBC’s Pete Williams had a significantly different version, recounted on air just after 12 PM.

In Williams account, which was significantly more granular, the story is quite different. According to Williams, around the time of this domestic incident, a neighbor overheard the father shouting and calling Ahmad a “terrorist.” The neighbor contacted the police, who followed up with the father.

The father admitted that he had said this but that he’d said it in anger and didn’t mean it literally. He said he was concerned that his son was involved with bad people, gang members and so forth. The FBI nonetheless opened an investigation but they found no evidence of connections to terrorism. The investigation was eventually closed.

The Times also includes a snippet from an interview with Mohammad Rahami this morning in which he seems to say that he had brought his concerns to the FBI.

Here’s the actual rush transcript of Williams’ version of the story.

There was a fight at the house. This led to the domestic violence charge between Ahmad Rahami and his brother. They got into a fight. He ends up stabbing somebody. He stabs his sister. There is yelling. While the fight is going on a neighbor overhears the yelling, hears the father say at one point, you’re a terrorist, get out of my house.

The neighbor called the police. The police come, talk to the neighbor who says, I heard the father say his son is a terrorist. The police notify the FBI’s joint terrorism task force. At that point Rahami is arrested for assault. He’s jailed for a time. Subsequently they are never pursued because the case basically goes away. Nonetheless based solely on what the neighbor did interviewed the father. That’s not what I meant. I was angry, it was an outburst but I don’t like the people he hangs out with. He hangs out with gang members.

There is an assessment under the program it has for when the allegations were made and finds no evidence whatsoever of a terrorism connection. Then the FBI re-interviews the father after doing the assessment. The father says I don’t believe my son is a terrorist. I made the statement in anger. I have no reason to say so. Finding no indication whatsoever that he was — that Ahmad Rahami was a terrorist, the case is closed. He was never put on any watch lists. It is all an outburst that a neighbor overhears. According to the FBI looking into it. There was never anything to it at the time two years ago.

It’s important to note: early versions of an emerging or breaking story often get details or emphases wrong. These are corrected with subsequent reporting. Individuals remember things with slight differences or with inaccuracies. And those small differences can shape the stories in big ways. The broadest outlines here line up. But the details paint very different pictures of how the FBI handled the information and what information they had.

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