Ahmad Rahami worked at his family's fried chicken restaurant in New Jersey, sometimes handing out free food to customers who were short on cash. His family let a local rapper and his friends host rap battles in the restaurant, and he liked to talk about street racing. But he and his family had also had their fair share of run-ins with police and neighbors over the restaurant's late hours and the rowdy crowds that sometimes accumulated there. And then, the 28-year-old Rahami, whose friends called him "Mad" for short, started acting differently after what they believe was a visit to his birthplace, Afghanistan, four years ago, those friends tell the New York Times. Now, Rahami is suspected in the weekend bombings in New York and New Jersey; on Monday, he was charged with five counts of attempted murder in connection to his alleged shootout with police officers, the AP reports. Prosecutors are still weighing charges related to the bombings.
"He was a completely different person," the aforementioned rapper, a childhood friend of Rahami's, tells the Times of the period after Rahami returned from, friends presume, Afghanistan. He grew a beard and started wearing Muslim robes and praying in the back of the restaurant. "He got serious and completely closed off." A neighbor says the family had always seemed "secretive, a little mysterious." Rahami's father and two of his brothers sued the city of Elizabeth in 2011 after it passed an ordinance requiring their restaurant to close earlier; they said neighbors were targeting them over their Muslim faith. The mayor says the fight had everything to do with noise and nothing to do with Rahami's race and ethnicity; the lawsuit ended up being terminated after Rahami's father pleaded guilty to blocking police from enforcing the restaurant's restrictions. In recent days, Rahami himself was often the one working at the restaurant, a regular customer tells the AP. "He's a very friendly guy, that's what's so scary." (Read more bombing stories.)