Accused 'Chelsea bomber' removed from New York courtroom as trial begins

(Reuters) - Ahmad Khan Rahimi, the man accused of setting off bombs in New York City and New Jersey in September 2016 and wounding 30 people, was temporarily removed from a Manhattan courtroom after trying to address the court without permission just as his trial was about to start.

FILE PHOTO: Ahmad Khan Rahimi, an Afghan-born U.S. citizen accused of planting bombs in New York and New Jersey, appears in Union County Superior Court for a hearing in Elizabeth, New Jersey, U.S., on May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

Rahimi, 29, who has pleaded not guilty to charges including using a weapon of mass destruction, stood and began to speak shortly after jurors entered the room to hear lawyers’ opening arguments, refusing to sit down when ordered by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman. He was escorted from the room by U.S. marshals and remained outside as a prosecutor delivered her opening statement.

After that statement, with jurors out of the room, Rahimi came back and told Berman he had wanted to complain that his brother and three children had recently lost the right to visit him, and his wife had never been allowed to visit. He said prison officials had not explained why.

“I have kept quiet for the entire year,” Rahimi said.

Berman reprimanded Rahimi for talking out of turn, but said he would investigate.

“You have my assurance that now that the issue is on the table, I will intervene,” he said.

Rahimi remained in the courtroom for his own lawyer’s opening statement.

In her opening for the prosecution, Assistant U.S. Attorney Shawn Crowley told jurors that on Sept. 17, 2016, Rahimi detonated a bomb he made with a pressure cooker and a cellphone timer in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

“It blew people off their feet, burned their faces, bloodied their limbs,” she said.

Just minutes later, Rahimi planted a second bomb several blocks away, which was found by passersby and removed by authorities before it could explode, Crowley said.

Crowley also told jurors that Rahimi planted a bomb on the route of a charity running race in New Jersey, which exploded without injuring anyone.

When Rahimi was arrested, the Afghanistan-born U.S. citizen was carrying a notebook in which he wrote that he was motivated by a radical anti-American ideology inspired by Osama bin Laden and others, Crowley said.

Meghan Gilligan, a lawyer for Rahimi, told jurors in her brief opening that there were “some serious questions about the reliability of certain witnesses and certain exhibits” which prosecutors planned to use.

“He is, at the end of the day, a person,” she said of Rahimi. “And he is a person who is presumed innocent.”

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York, editing by G Crosse