The family of the man killed by investigators in a Roslindale parking lot as he allegedly wielded a knife called on Thursday for a “complete and transparent investigation,” including asking whether officers exceeded their authority in stopping him.
Harvard law professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., speaking on behalf of Usaama Rahim’s relatives, said family members had seen no behavior to suggest that the 26-year-old had embraced extremism.
Sullivan said Rahim’s family, who stood in the parking lot where Rahim died, had reached no conclusions about what happened Tuesday and pledged to “enter into a joint relationship with investigators to get to the truth.”
After the Roslindale news conference, family members went to Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office, where they viewed surveillance video that captured the fateful encounter between police and Rahim, who is expected to be buried Friday. Emerging at 6:45 p.m., Rahim’s older brother, Imam Ibrahim Rahim, said only, “Boston Strong, God Bless America,” before getting into a waiting vehicle.
In Washington, D.C., US Representative Stephen F. Lynch said Usaama Rahim had been on the FBI’s radar since 2012. Lynch, who has had a series of briefings by federal agencies on the case, said the Joint Terrorism Task Force was brought in earlier this year, though it is unclear what triggered the FBI’s initial involvement or the decision to bring in more resources.
“I’m not sure what red-flagged him, but I think it went back — the FBI was looking at him going back to 2012,” said Lynch, a South Boston Democrat.
Lynch said he did not know whether anything tied Rahim to the extremist Islamic State group other than his frequenting of ISIS-related Internet websites. He said nothing suggested Rahim was being recruited by the terrorist organization.
In postings on a Facebook page linked to him, Rahim wrote angrily about being followed by the FBI in November 2012, and portrayed himself as unjustly targeted.
Lynch said Rahim was in Saudi Arabia as a high school freshman, and at the time was a follower of the Muslim Brotherhood. Sullivan declined to comment on Rahim’s time in Saudi Arabia.
“The lone wolves and the small cells — they don’t have to cross the border. They don’t have to assimilate. They’re already here,” said US Representative Bill Keating, a South Coast and Cape Cod Democrat who is on the House Committee on Homeland Security. “There’s so much attention in Congress on borders. There’s no borders to the Internet, and the call to action and the transmission is so large.”
Keating, who spoke with a top FBI official Wednesday, said he did not know what triggered investigations into Rahim. Asked whether Rahim was being recruited by the Islamic State, he said, “in almost every case, they’re not targeting any individual. This is broad and sweeping.”
At the family’s news conference, Sullivan said reports that suggested Rahim had been radicalized came as “a complete shock.” There was no sign anything was wrong, he said. In the days, weeks, and months before Rahim allegedly brandished a long military knife and lunged at investigators who were watching him around the clock, Rahim seemed to his family to be a typical 26-year-old.
“An energetic young man who was trying to make his way in this world. A very young man,” Sullivan said. “A seemingly normal young man going about the workaday world.”
Beneath that unassuming exterior, authorities say, lurked a dark plan: Rahim had allegedly told his nephew Tuesday morning that he planned to randomly murder police officers, law enforcement officials say.
Rahim’s aunt, who was the only family member to speak and who did not fully identify herself, said she did not think her nephew would have been labeled a potential terrorist if he was not Muslim. Rahim simply felt “threatened,” she said, when task force members approached him.
“As you all know, with the current slaughter of black men going on right now across the nation, that’s enough to make any and all black men feel threatened,” she said, referring to a series of police shootings across the country. She suggested that Rahim was only carrying the approximately footlong knife to protect himself against “a general threat.”
Sullivan, who spoke for the family as a whole, said it was waiting for more evidence to be revealed “in order to form a reasoned and informed opinion.” He commended the district attorney’s office on its willingness to share the surveillance video with the family.
“What the family wants to do is enter into a joint relationship with investigators to get to the truth,” he said. “The facts will lead us where the facts lead us.”
But Sullivan said the family questioned why investigators had approached Rahim in the first place when officers did not have a warrant.
Sullivan also said Ibrahim Rahim, Rahim’s older brother, regretted a post he made on Facebook shortly after the shooting that said Usaama Rahim had been shot in the back. Authorities have said the surveillance video shows that Rahim was shot from the front, and community leaders and clergy who reviewed the video Wednesday confirmed that.
Sullivan said the older brother had received inaccurate information from a third party and made the posting. “These were the responses of a man whose youngest brother was just killed,” he said.
Before the news conference, Ibrahim Rahim issued a statement calling “upon the local and national Muslim communities to remain calm and to offer their prayers’’ for his brother. “My family loves the City of Boston where I was raised. God Bless us all.”
Earlier in the news conference, a Muslim community leader said law enforcement officers should have captured, rather than fatally shot Rahim.
“They are the professionals. They are professional people who apprehend people all the time. . . . They know what to do. If they want to take him down without killing him, they know what to do,” said Imam Abdullah Faaruuq, of the Mosque for the Praising of Allah in Boston.
He said the law enforcement operation was “poorly constructed,” “ill-conceived,” and “reckless.”
Law enforcement officials declined to comment directly on the remarks made at the news conference.
“Out of respect to the grieving family, we will withhold comment as they prepare to bury their loved one,” said Boston police Superintendent in Chief William G. Gross.
A spokesman for Conley said the Suffolk district attorney’s office has “a national reputation for transparency in our investigations,” and that the Rahim case would be no different.
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Rahim’s nephew, 25-year-old David Wright, of Everett, is also facing federal charges in the incident for allegedly encouraging his uncle to destroy evidence. He is being held without bail.
Law enforcement officials have reported that the original target of the alleged terror plot was political activist Pamela Geller, who has drawn national attention for her criticism of radical Muslims. Two men opened fire last month at an event she hosted in Garland, Texas, where she had invited people to present cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Law enforcement officers shot and killed both men.
At the scene of the shooting Thursday, someone had placed a note, signed only “brother,” on a blue pillow tied with a glittery ribbon. “These are the people that are suppose to ‘help us’. They do nothing but HURT US!” the note said. “They go to other parts of the world and start war then want us to teach our kids that the other people are the enemy.”
Tuesday’s fatal encounter left members of Boston’s Muslim community reeling, and some said they feared the public would judge all Muslims based on Rahim’s alleged actions.
“I get looks. I get people looking at me wrong,” 24-year-old Twila Muhammad said outside the Mosque for the Praising of Allah, where Rahim had ties. “And I go, listen, I’m a citizen too, I’m an American citizen. I’m in fear of my life just like you.”
She became emotional.
“I want peace,” she said. “It’s like this stereotype — they see that, then they look at the Muslim, and think that’s what we’re about, and it’s totally the opposite. I just want everyone to get along.”