Posts Tagged ‘ Pakistani-American ’

Obscuring a Muslim Name, and an American’s Sacrifice

As Reported by Sharon Otterman for The New York Times

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He was buried after the Sept. 11 attacks with full honors from the New York Police Department, and proclaimed a hero by the city’s police commissioner. He is cited by name in the Patriot Act as an example of Muslim-American valor.

And Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, one of two Muslim members of Congress, was brought to tears during a Congressional hearing in March while describing how the man, a Pakistani-American from Queens, had wrongly been suspected of involvement in the attacks, before he was lionized as a young police cadet who had died trying to save lives.

Despite this history, Mohammad Salman Hamdani is nowhere to be found in the long list of fallen first responders at the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan.

Nor can his name be found among those of victims whose bodies were found in the wreckage of the north tower, where his body was finally discovered in 34 parts.

Instead, his name appears on the memorial’s last panel for World Trade Center victims, next to a blank space along the south tower perimeter, with the names of others who did not fit into the rubrics the memorial created to give placements meaning. That section is for those who had only a loose connection, or none, to the World Trade Center.

The placement of Mr. Hamdani’s name has fueled the continuing concern and anger about how his legacy was treated soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, when, apparently because of his Pakistani roots, Muslim religion and background as a biochemistry major at Queens College, he fell under suspicion.

His name appeared on a flier faxed to police stations; newspaper headlines amplified his status as a person wanted for questioning.

“They do not want anyone with a Muslim name to be acknowledged at ground zero with such high honors,” his mother, Talat Hamdani, 60, said last week at her home in Lake Grove on Long Island, her voice filled with pain. “They don’t want someone with the name Mohammad to be up there.”

To Mrs. Hamdani, that her son would not be recognized at the memorial as an official first responder was the latest in a series of injustices that began with a knock on her door from two police officers in October 2001. She, her husband and two other sons had been searching morgues and hospitals for his body. But the officers wanted to ask questions, and they asked for a picture from the refrigerator that showed Mr. Hamdani, 23 when he died, at his Queens College graduation next to a friend who Mrs. Hamdani had told them was from Afghanistan.

It was around the same time that Mr. Hamdani’s official police cadet picture was circulating through police stations on a flier with the handwritten words “Hold and detain. Notify: major case squad,” The New York Times later reported. Investigators visited Mr. Hamdani’s dentist and confiscated his dental records, his mother learned.

It was not until March 2002, when the family was finally informed that Mr. Hamdani’s remains had been found in the wreckage more than five months earlier, that the public cloud over his name cleared.

It turned out his was a classic New York story. His family had immigrated from Pakistan when he was 13 months old, his father opening a candy store, his mother becoming a middle school teacher. Mr. Hamdani attended Catholic school in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, until the eighth grade, and then played football for Bayside High School in Queens.

He became a certified emergency medical technician and spent a year volunteering for MetroCare, a private ambulance company. He was a police cadet for three years and had taken the test to enter the academy, but was waiting to see if he was accepted to medical school.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, his family and friends believed, Mr. Hamdani, traveling to work at a DNA analysis lab at Rockefeller University, must have seen the burning towers from the elevated subway tracks in Queens and gone down to help.

“We have an example of how one can make the world better,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said of Mr. Hamdani. The mayor was one of the dignitaries who appeared at Mr. Hamdani’s funeral, which was held with full police honors at a mosque off East 96th Street in April 2002.

“Salman stood up when most people would have gone in the other direction,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

For years, Mrs. Hamdani believed that the police had fully acknowledged her son’s sacrifice. She cherished the weighty brass police cadet badge that the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, had given her, to dispel any doubts about who her son had been.

So it was with shock that she received a notification from the Sept. 11 memorial in 2009 that Mr. Hamdani’s name would be listed among those with “loose connections” to the World Trade Center where they died.

She tried calling politicians, even writing a letter to President Obama, from whom she received a respectful but vague hand-signed reply. Her son’s placement had fallen through bureaucratic cracks.

There is no section at the memorial for informal rescue workers, first responders in the literal sense, who were believed to have voluntarily gone to the towers to help but who were not yet full-fledged members of an approved first-responder agency.

Organized groups of victims’ family members settled on the concept of “meaningful adjacency” to guide the placement of names, allowing them to place victims’ names next to those of people they worked with or knew. That was no help in the case of Mr. Hamdani, who had apparently not known anyone there.

“That’s where the model falls down,” said Thomas H. Rogér, a member of the memorial foundation’s board who was deeply involved in those discussions. “That was the sad part about it. If you weren’t affiliated with one of the groups that had a constituency that was at the table, when we were carrying out all these negotiations, then nobody was representing your cause.”

Meanwhile, the Police Department did not include Mr. Hamdani’s name on its own list of the fallen because “he was still a student,” said Paul J. Browne, a department spokesman. A police cadet is the equivalent of a paid college intern with the department, Mr. Browne said, and is not a full-fledged police officer or a recruit enrolled at the academy.

“But that did not take away from Mohammad’s actions that day,” Mr. Browne said in an e-mail. “If anything, it magnified them. He didn’t have to respond. It wasn’t his job, but he did anyway.”

Linda Sarsour, the director of the Arab American Association of New York City, said acknowledging Mr. Hamdani as a first responder “would be a great gesture to say to the community that we recognize that we have Muslim-Americans who risked their lives or lost their lives on that day, and for that we thank you.”

Mr. Rogér, of the memorial foundation, wondered if Mr. Hamdani’s name could appear in the Police Department’s section of the memorial with an asterisk noting that he was a police cadet. The Rev. Chloe Breyer, the executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York, also suggested some compromise.

“It shows an enormous lack of imagination on the part of the N.Y.P.D. and museum not to figure out a way to acknowledge adequately the special sacrifice he made and that his mother endures daily,” she said in an e-mail.

Mrs. Hamdani, who has started a Queens College scholarship in her son’s name, is still unsure of how much she wants to press the issue. Pride, in the end, is the overwhelming feeling she has for her son.

“You are equal no matter where you are buried, whether your name is there or not,” Mrs. Hamdani recalled saying as she stood before his name and the memorial’s pouring waterfalls on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. “By your actions the world remembers you.”

Virginia Man Admits Conspiring With Pakistan Spy Agency

By Tom Schoenberg for Bloomberg Businessweek

A Virginia man admitted to aiding what prosecutors said was a “decades-long” operation by Pakistan’s spy agency to influence U.S. policy on Kashmir through unregistered lobbying and campaign contributions to members of Congress.

Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, 62, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and one count of impeding the administration of tax laws. He faces as long as eight years in prison when he’s sentenced on March 9. U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady agreed to let Fai remain free until sentencing.

Fai admitted to helping funnel at least $3.5 million from Pakistan’s government through the Washington-based Kashmiri American Council to sway the attitudes of U.S. lawmakers on the disputed territory with campaign contributions and other lobbying activities.

The council, which was headed by Fai at the time of his arrest in July, is “actually run” by elements of the Pakistani government, including Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, or ISI, prosecutors said.

Pakistan and India, which have split control of the territory since 1948, fought wars over Kashmir in 1965 and 1999.

‘Paid Operative’

“For the last 20 years, Mr. Fai secretly took millions of dollars from Pakistani intelligence and lied about it to the U.S. government,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said in a statement. “As a paid operative of ISI, he did the bidding of his handlers in Pakistan while he met with U.S. elected officials, funded high-profile conferences, and promoted the Kashmiri cause to decision-makers in Washington.”

Fai, a Pakistani immigrant and U.S. citizen living in Fairfax, Virginia, was charged in July with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act and lying to federal agents. He was charged along with Zaheer Ahmad, 63, a U.S. citizen who remains at large, according to prosecutors. The pair failed to disclose their affiliation with Pakistan’s government as required by law, prosecutors said.

On Nov. 23, the government separated Fai’s case from Ahmad’s and added the charge of impeding the Internal Revenue Service.

As part of his plea, Fai agreed to pay about $200,000 to the IRS and forfeit about $143,000 the government seized from five bank accounts in Virginia and Washington, according to court papers. Fai also agreed to cooperate with any federal investigation.

Fai’s Admission

Fai said little during today’s plea hearing. He answered “No sir” when O’Grady asked if he disagreed with any of the information contained in the statement of facts submitted by the government outlining the conspiracy and his ties to the ISI.

Fai admitted that during an interview with Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in July, he “falsely denied” that he or the council received money from the ISI or the government of Pakistan, according to the statement of facts.

A search of Fai’s home, office and a storage facility turned up documents detailing the council’s Washington strategies, including budget requirements for contributions to members of Congress and trips to Kashmir for lawmakers, money for opinion pieces distributed to the media, as well as money for seminars and conferences, prosecutors said in a court filing. One document found in the search called for $100,000 for contributions to members of Congress in 2009, prosecutors said.

Annual Budget

Fai, who admitted the conspiracy took place from 1990 until July 18, said he submitted annual budget requests of about $500,000 to $700,000 to officials of the government of Pakistan, including the ISI.

Since the mid-1990s, Ahmad, an American living in Pakistan, has moved government funds through a network he ran to Fai and the council, which also has offices in London and Brussels, prosecutors said.

The council’s goal is to build support for Pakistani interests in Kashmir and offset lobbying by India over the disputed territory, the U.S. said in court papers.

Fai has donated more than $10,000 to federal politicians in the past five years, according to data compiled by the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.

Among his political contributions, Fai, in 2008 and again in 2010, gave $2,000 to U.S. Representative Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican, according to the center. He also gave $5,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2006, followed by a $1,000 contribution in 2008. He gave $250 to President Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 and $250 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2009.

The case is U.S. v. Fai, 11-00561, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).

Accused DC Bomb Plotter Farooque Ahmed’s Goal Was ‘Killing as Many Metro Riders as Possible’

By Kerry Wills, James Gordon Meek, and Helen Kennedy for The NY Daily News

A former Staten Island man was busted in Washington on Wednesday for helping what he thought were Al Qaeda terrorists plotting to bomb the capital’s subways.

It was really the FBI stringing him along, the feds say.

Farooque Ahmed, 34, a computer engineer who lives with his wife and baby in suburban Virginia, was accused of making sketches and surveillance videos of busy subway stops near the Pentagon and tourist-packed Arlington Cemetery.

The stations Ahmed helped case are popular with Defense Department workers. He thought the stations would be blown up sometime next year, the indictment says.

His goal was “killing as many Metro riders as possible through simultaneous bomb attacks,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said. “It’s chilling.”

The feds said straphangers were never in any danger.

Much like the four men convicted this month of plotting to attack a Bronx synagogue, Ahmed was stung by an undercover FBI operation and never met any real terrorists.

His face hidden by a long beard, mustache and glasses, Ahmed appeared briefly in federal court and will be held until a detention hearing tomorrow. He said he could not afford a lawyer.

A Pakistani who became a naturalized citizen in New York 17 years ago, Ahmed worked for Ericsson telecommunications in Virginia setting up routers for the Sprint network, his LinkedIn profile says.

He received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the College of Staten Island in 2003 and studied mechanical engineering at City College, but did not receive the graduate degree, college officials said.

Ahmed’s online profile blamed that on “a political issue between computer science and (engineering) departments.” Officials said the dispute was over academic credits, not geopolitics.

He registered as a Republican in the borough in 2002.

Neighbors in Ashburn, Va., said he moved there a year ago with his British wife, Sahar Mirza, and toddler son.

Sahar Mirza is co-organizer of a Meetup.com group for mothers of new babies called Hip Muslim Moms.

He wore casual clothes – he appeared in court in jeans – but she wore more traditional garb and covered her hair.
“He was out back mowing the lawn over the weekend. He just seemed like a normal guy. He never talked about politics,” said neighbor Barbi Shires, 43. “I’m just glad it was the FBI he did it for, not al Qaeda.”

Next door neighbor, Tanya Minor, 32, who works in a doctor’s office, said Ahmed “came to look at the house with a man who spoke his language, who said he helped people from New York find apartments here. They were very quiet. They always had the blinds closed.”

 

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteThe arrest of Faisal Shahzad and now Farooque Ahmed illustrates that unfortunately there are some within the large Pakistani and Muslim American community in the United States who mean to do us harm and they need to be caught and brought to justice. We urge all Pakistani and Muslim Americans to be vigilant and proactive in reporting anyone to the authorities who they believe have become radicalized and deemed a threat to the safety of others.

Pakistan’s Musharraf is Launching a Long-Shot, Long-Distance Bid to be President Again

By Zain Shauk for The Houston Chronicle

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf hopes to retake the leadership of his country, and he is actively campaigning — in Texas.

Musharraf, who relinquished his presidency in 2008, has a set of Houston meetings planned this week with wealthy Pakistani-Americans and corporate leaders.

He is scheduled to meet today with former President George H.W. Bush and Joanne King Herring, a longtime advocate for development in Afghanistan and Pakistan who was played by actress Julia Roberts in the film Charlie Wilson’s War.

Musharraf, a London resident, announced this month the creation of a new political party and a plan to run in Pakistan’s 2013 parliamentary elections.

But he has kicked off his campaign in the U.S., a decision that could say more about the perceived influence of the Pakistani-American community in cities such as Houston than Musharraf’s chances for success, experts say.

Musharraf said he believes connecting with Pakistanis in America will give him enough backing — financially and politically — to carry him to victory in Pakistan.

“I do need financial support, and I would ask the American Pakistani diaspora to support me … because I see darkness in Pakistan,” Musharraf said. “Because I don’t see a political party or a leader in Pakistan to be able to tackle the problems that Pakistan is facing.”

While Musharraf enjoys backing from the Pakistani-American elite, experts say he will be hard-pressed to develop a political base within his country and likely does not stand a chance against more established parties.

He is also in no position to campaign within Pakistan. Safety is a concern after multiple assassination attempts during his presidency, and he would likely face prosecution in connection with several criminal cases currently pending in Pakistani courts, experts said.

Still, Musharraf’s interest in wooing deep-pocketed Pakistani-Americans is revealing, said Walter Andersen, associate director of the South Asia program at Johns Hopkins University.

Not only do Pakistani-Americans play a role in financially supporting candidates, but their meetings in America are covered by Pakistani news media and seem to give politicians the idea that they are gaining traction, Andersen said.

Former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif also visited U.S. communities while campaigning, he said.

“Whether it works is not important,” Andersen said. “The perception among them (politicians) is that it works.”

Wide-ranging itinerary
U.S. communities don’t play a visible role in Pakistani elections, but Musharraf could stand to gain from his current North America tour, said Jamal Elias, an expert on contemporary Pakistan and chairman of the religious studies department at the University of Pennsylvania.

Musharraf’s itinerary will include stops in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Toronto. He visited Dallas last week.

“Appearing statesman-like is going to help him in Pakistan,” Elias said. “It’s not going to build a constituency, but it may help him.”

There are more than 75,000 people of Pakistani origin in the Houston area, which includes more than 800 doctors, executives in the energy and information technology industries and scores of business owners, according to the Consulate of Pakistan in Houston.

Many of them have in the past contributed financially to political parties in Pakistan and will likely do so again, said M.J. Khan, a former Houston city councilman and member of the Pakistani community.

Khan said he does not send money to Pakistani political candidates, but knows U.S. residents in Houston and elsewhere who do. “They’re an educated community, and they send a lot of resources to Pakistan,” Khan said. “So I think every politician in Pakistan feels the Pakistani-American community is an important group to reach out to.”

Tactics questioned
Some community members – including Sajjad Burki, president of a Houston chapter for a political party headed by Pakistani cricket star Imran Khan – were not sure of the former president’s legitimacy as a candidate. Burki questioned Musharraf’s campaign tactics and priorities.

“It doesn’t make sense for him to be creating a political party and campaigning abroad rather than campaigning in Pakistan,” he said.

Herring, who is hoping to build support for Musharraf’s candidacy, said she planned to back him because of his support for her development efforts in Afghanistan.

“I think that Musharraf is interested in my plan,” Herring said. “I know he is. He supports it.”

Seeks ‘legitimacy’
Musharraf, a retired general, said he hopes a possible election to office will give him “the legitimacy that maybe I didn’t have in the past” as someone who had seized control of the government in a 1999 military coup.

He spent much of a luncheon Tuesday discussing the threats to Pakistan created by instability and lack of development in Afghanistan. Asked how he would solve that and a host of other challenges, Musharraf paused and smiled at his audience.

“First of all, get me elected,” he said.

Official Admits Militancy’s Deep Roots in Pakistan

By Jane Perlez and Waqar Gillani for The New York Times

LAHORE, Pakistan — Days after one of the worst terrorist attacks in Pakistan, a senior Pakistani official declared in a surprising public admission that extremist groups were entrenched in the southern portion of the nation’s most populous province, underscoring the growing threats to the state.

 The statements by the interior minister, Rehman Malik, after the killing of more than 80 people at two mosques last week here in Lahore, were exceptional because few Pakistani politicians have acknowledged so explicitly the deep roots of militancy in Pakistan. They also highlighted the seeming impotence of the civilian government to root out the militant groups, even in Punjab Province, providing a troubling recognition that decades of state policy to nurture extremism had come home to roost in the very heart of the country.

 The extent of the problem has become an increasing concern for the United States, which has pressed the government to deal with the issue with renewed urgency since the failed attempt by a Pakistani-American to explode a car bomb in Times Square.

 “We’re dealing with a problem that is so deeply burrowed into the bosom of the society,” said a senior Western official about the difficulty of loosening the grip of the militant groups. “And we’re dealing with a government that is unhappy within itself.”

The problem for Pakistan, Western officials and some Pakistani politicians said, is not only the specific acts of terrorism by these groups, but the far more pervasive jihadi mentality that has been nurtured in the society by an extensive network of extremist madrasas and mosques.

Mr. Malik’s remarks — in which he rattled off a host of extremist groups once supported by the state — were a nod to these larger problems. In contrast to the tribal areas at the nation’s periphery, where the military is battling the Pakistani Taliban on several fronts, militants were “now active” in the southern part of Punjab and were trying to “destabilize the country,” he said.

Though Mr. Malik seemed to hint at possible military action in Punjab, the civilian government, led by the Pakistan Peoples Party, the more secular of the political parties in Pakistan, has little leverage to make it happen.

The Pakistani military, which still holds most power, has shown little interest in taking on extremist groups in Punjab. The province is a major recruiting area for the army, and many of the militant groups there were created by the state decades ago and have been fostered since as arms of Pakistan’s enduring anti-India strategy.

To a large degree, they have slipped from the control of their handlers in the military and intelligence services, according to Western diplomats and Pakistani security experts, and have linked up with Taliban fighters and other militant groups that are now striking deeper into Pakistan in an effort to overthrow the state.

Today these militants move back and forth easily between the tribal areas for training and Punjab, where they carry out a rising number of spectacular attacks.

“They — Lashkar-e-Janghvi, the Sipah-e-Sohaba Pakistan and Jaish-e-Mohammad — are allies of the Taliban and Al Qaeda,” Mr. Malik told reporters in Lahore after the mosque attacks. 

The loose conglomerate of militants that Mr. Malik listed is now being grouped by officials and others under the name of the Punjabi Taliban, a designation that itself highlights the expanding nature of the threat in Pakistan’s most important province and the militants’ shifting ambitions. Under that rubric also falls Lashkar-e-Taiba, an anti-India militant group. Like the others listed by Mr. Malik, Lashkar-e-Taiba has been banned by the state, but continues to operate under a different name and apparently with the blessing of the military.

The Punjabi Taliban took credit for the assaults on the two Ahmadi mosques last Friday. At least one of the men arrested by the Pakistani authorities in connection with the Times Square bombing case is connected to Jaish-e-Mohammed, according to law enforcement officials in Karachi.  Adding to the difficulty of clamping down on the groups, the Punjabi government, led by Shahbaz Sharif, a leader of the more conservative Pakistan Muslim League-N and a chief political rival of President Asif Ali Zardari, has stopped short of condemning the militants. In some respects, he has treated them as allies.

Two months ago, Mr. Sharif asked the Taliban to stay away from Punjab, arguing that his party and the Taliban had a common enemy in the United States. The Punjab government is “in a state of denial,” said Arif Nizami, a columnist with the newspaper The News. Mr. Sharif played down the attack on the two mosques in Lahore, Punjab’s capital. Instead, he visited the wounded survivors in a hospital quietly at night without the usual television coverage.

The groups hold such sway that Pakistani politicians frequently pander to some, like the pro-Taliban Sipah-e-Sohaba Pakistan, during elections.  In a bold illustration of the power of one of the militant groups in southern Punjab, the provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah, campaigned alongside the leader of Sipah-e-Sohaba, Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, during a March by-election for the provincial assembly in the city of Jhang.

In an interview, Mr. Sanaullah, said he saw nothing wrong with campaigning with Mr. Ludhianvi. It was a good thing, he said, because it helped bring groups that he described as no longer militant into the democratic mainstream. “If they want to be law-abiding citizens, we should allow them to be,” Mr. Sanaullah said.  Mr. Sanaullah was not alone in seeking votes from Sipah-e-Sohaba. A candidate for the National Assembly running for the Pakistan Peoples Party also won with its support earlier this year. Though security is a paramount concern, government officials and others acknowledge that the problem of militancy will not be solved by military force alone. Having been nurtured through generations, it will also not be undone quickly.

A program announced by Mr. Zardari two years ago to rein in the madrasas has yet to get off the ground, blocked by bureaucratic inertia and fears of a backlash from powerful conservative religious groups, Pakistani officials say. As state-sponsored education becomes too expensive for poor parents, the number of madrasas has actually increased in the past three years, to more than 17,000 in 2010 from 13,000 in 2007. At least several thousand of the madrasas churn out militant students, experts say.

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