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Suspected New York City bomber bought components on eBay, feds say

Ahmad Khan Rahami also liked jihadist videos on YouTube, federal complaint alleges

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Ahmad Khan Rahami, the man accused of planting bombs across New York and New Jersey over the weekend, purchased components for the explosives on eBay, according to a complaint filed this week. The complaint also describes a cell phone video in which Rahami ignites "incendiary material" days before the attack, and claims that the 28-year-old "liked" two jihad-related videos on YouTube.

In a complaint filed Tuesday in the US District Court in Manhattan, federal prosecutors said that Rahami used eBay to purchase electric igniters, ball bearings, and citric acid, a precursor chemical commonly used in improvised explosives, among other components. The purchases were made between June and August under the user name "ahmad rahimi," and were delivered to a business in Perth Amboy, New Jersey where Rahami worked. Writing in the complaint, Special Agent Peter Licata said that ball bearings were in the bombs planted on 23rd and 27th Street in Manhattan.

eBay has come under criticism in the past for allowing weapon components on its platform. Assault weapons components are banned on the auction site, but a 2015 report found that users regularly circumvent eBay's rules using simple techniques. In 2014, Facebook and Instagram introduced rules aimed at curbing the sale of guns on its platforms.

eBay says bomb components are "legal to buy and sell in the United States."

In a statement to Gizmodo, eBay said that the items listed in the complaint "are legal to buy and sell in the United States and are widely available at online and offline stores," adding that the company is "proactively working with law enforcement authorities on their investigation."

The video recovered from Rahami's cellphone allegedly shows him igniting explosives in a "cylindrical container" near his home. The clip "depicts the lighting of the fuse, a loud noise and flames, followed by billowing smoke and laughter," the complaint says, after which Rahami enters the frame. According to the complaint, the video was shot near Rahami's home two days before the attack was carried out.

Prosecutors also provided details on some YouTube videos that Rahami watched. According to the complaint, two jihadist videos — "jihad nasheed ya shahid" and "best jihad nasheed" — were listed among his favorites, though he did not produce or publish the videos himself. His other favorites include videos of love ballads, a clip of a cat doing backflips, and a short video from the show "Judge Judy."

YouTube, Facebook, and other social media companies have publicly touted efforts to crack down on extremist content and material that incites violence, though it is not clear whether the two clips cited in the complaint would have fallen afoul of YouTube's terms of service. The lyrics to one of the clips read, in part: "Our sanctuaries would not have been desecrated had the lions surrounded them. The filthiest of bandits have attacked us. So where are the swords?"  A YouTube spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rahami faces several federal charges, including using weapons of mass destruction and bombing a place of public use. According to The New York Times, investigators have so far found no ties to terrorist organizations.