Reuters International

Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, is shown in Union County, New Jersey, U.S. Prosecutor’s Office photo released on September 19, 2016. Courtesy Union County Prosecutor’s Office/Handout via REUTERS

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By David Ingram

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The wife of the Afghan-born U.S. citizen charged in last weekend's bombings in New York City and New Jersey has returned to the United States, a law enforcement official said on Thursday, while a defence lawyer pressed to get access to the accused man.

Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, has been held in a Newark, New Jersey, hospital since being arrested on Monday with wounds after a shootout with police. Rahami faces federal charges in both states stemming from a Saturday night bombing in Manhattan's Chelsea neighbourhood that injured 31 people and a pair of blasts in New Jersey. No one was killed in the bombings.

Rahami's wife, Asia Bibi Rahami, flew back to the United States overnight, a law enforcement official said. She had voluntarily met with U.S. law enforcement authorities while in the United Arab Emirates this week and gave a statement.

Rahami two years ago had sought the assistance of a U.S. congressman from New Jersey in getting her a visa to allow her to come to the United States from Pakistan when she was pregnant.

Authorities have been trying to determine whether Rahami, a naturalized U.S. citizen who emigrated from Afghanistan with his family at the age of 7 and lived in Elizabeth, New Jersey, had any assistance in planning the bombings or making the homemade devices.

Rahami was motivated by militant Islamic views, prosecutors said, citing a journal he was carrying when he was captured in which he begged for martyrdom and expressed outrage at the U.S. "slaughter" of Muslim fighters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Palestine. The case is being treated by authorities as an act of terrorism.

ACCESS TO A LAWYER

Prosecutors and New York's top federal public defender are squabbling over when Rahami will get a lawyer.

David Patton, the head of the federal public defenders office in New York, asked on Wednesday to be appointed as Rahami's attorney and to be allowed to meet with him, saying the suspect has not had the advice of a lawyer thus far.

The FBI said that Rahami was arrested by police in New Jersey and remained in the custody of that state, not the federal government. A U.S. magistrate judge late on Wednesday said he accepted that position.

"The Government asserts unequivocally that the defendant 'is not in federal custody,'" Judge Gabriel Gorenstein wrote in an order late on Wednesday. "Whether there are federal authorities questioning defendant does not address the issue of custody."

The judge said the timetable for when Rahami can meet with a public defender cannot be decided until the issue of custody is resolved.

Normally, a U.S. criminal defendant goes before a magistrate with little delay and, if too poor to afford a lawyer, is appointed a lawyer at that first appearance or soon afterward, said Norman Lefstein, an Indiana University law professor.

"A person in this situation ought to have the capacity to confer with a lawyer. If the person had money, they would be able to talk to a lawyer," Lefstein said.

The FBI also continued to search for two men who found a second, unexploded pressure-cooker device that prosecutors say Rahami left in a piece of luggage in Chelsea on Saturday night.

The two men, who took the bag but left the improvised bomb on the street, are not suspects, officials said, but investigators want to interview them as witnesses.

Investigators also looked into Rahami's history of travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as for evidence he may have picked up radical views or been trained in bomb-making.

(Reporting by David Ingram; Additional reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Will Dunham)

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