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5 Americans Held After Raid In Pakistan: Analystical Nasiha To The Community

11 December 2009

El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan

By this time many of us have heard one or more media reports about the five young Washington area Muslims who are believed to have left the United States under suspicious circumstances, and the five young Muslim Americans who were detained in Pakistan.

The national office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) held a news conference earlier today in the nation’s capitol, to outline how the Muslim community assisted the FBI in resolving the case of five young missing men. (I did not learn of the press conference until later in the day, and thus, I was not in attendance.)

What follows is a Washington area Council of Muslim Organizations “Community Advisory” on this case (which will no doubt receive an avalanche of negative publicity and commentary in the coming days). The advisory is followed by an AP report from National Public Radio’s website. The AP report is than followed by our own analytical advisory to the Muslim community and its leadership.


CMO Community Advisory

Wednesday, December 9, 2009 

Five Muslim families in northern Virginia have reported their children missing to the FBI.   According to sources close to the families, the youth said that they were attending a student event in Maryland.  When they did not return on Sunday (November 29th) as planned, the families became concerned.  The families immediately contacted the masjid leadership.  The family members and masjid leaders then met with Nihad Awad, CAIR Executive Director, regarding the issue.  CAIR advised that the families contact the FBI, which they did. The families shared what they knew with law enforcement.

It is believed that through the coordination of the family members, the 5 youths have been detained overseas.  Recent unconfirmed [reports] indicate that the 5 youth are safe and pose no danger to themselves or to others.  The nature of their travel is not clear, but raises concerns in this climate of violence.

We applaud the community and law enforcement cooperation which has lead to the apprehension of these young people.  Currently, there are no charges pending against the five youth and their names have not been distributed to the public by law enforcement.

Community leaders are advised to contact CAIR or CMO for more details.  We humbly request that you not make any press statements at this time but refer media to CAIR or CMO for interviews. 

What follows is an Associated Press report from National Public Radio’s website. 

5 Americans Held After Raid In Pakistan

Five young Americans captured in Pakistan are under investigation for possibly trying to meet up with a terror group, authorities said Wednesday. Two U.S. officials said one of the men left a "farewell" video behind saying Muslims must be defended, and showing images of U.S. casualties.

Frantic relatives and worried FBI agents have been searching for the five college-age men since they disappeared in late November. The students have family roots in the northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., area.

Two U.S. officials said one of the men — they did not say which one — left behind what investigators believe was a farewell video message, in which he talks about defending Muslims and shows images of U.S. casualties. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.

Pakistan police officer Tahir Gujjar said five Americans were picked up in a raid on a house on Sarghoda in the eastern province of Punjab. He did not identify the five, but said three are of Pakistani descent, one is of Egyptian descent and the other has Yemeni heritage.

S.M. Imran Gardezi, press minister at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, said the men "are under arrest in Pakistan. The investigation is to see whether they had any links to any extremist groups." No charges have been filed.

Pakistani regional police chief Mian Javed Islam told The Associated Press that the men were between 18 and 20 and spent the past few days in the city of Sarghoda, which is near an air base about 125 miles south of the capital, Islamabad.

In Washington, a spokeswoman for the FBI's local office said agents have been trying to help find the men. "The FBI is working with the families and local law enforcement to investigate the missing students and is aware of the individuals arrested in Pakistan," said the spokeswoman, Katherine Schweit. "We are working with Pakistan authorities to determine their identities and the nature of their business there if indeed these are the students who had gone missing." She said the investigation continues and declined to comment further.

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the five left the country at the end of November without telling their families. He said the five are from the northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., area and are acquaintances. He could not say exactly how they know each other.

Hooper said after the young men left, some made phone calls to their families still claiming to be in the United States, but the caller ID information suggested they were overseas. The families, members of the local Muslim community, took their concerns to CAIR, which put them in touch with the FBI and got them a lawyer, Hooper said.

One of the men is Ramy Zamzam, a dental student at Howard University, according to the U.S. officials. A Howard University spokesman confirmed Zamzam was a student there but declined further comment.

Samirah Ali, president of Howard University's Muslim Student Association, said the FBI contacted her last week about Zamzam, and told her he had been missing for a week.

Ali said she's known Zamzam for three years and never suspected he would be involved in radical activities. "He's a very nice guy, very cordial, very friendly," Ali said, adding that he has a bubbly personality. "It really caught me off guard."

U.S. Embassy spokesman Rick Snelsire said officials there were aware of the reported arrests, but could not confirm them. Pakistan has many militant groups based on its territory and the U.S. has been pressing the government to crack down on extremism. Al-Qaida and Taliban militants are believed to be hiding in safe havens in lawless tribal areas near the Afghan border.


Assalaamu Alaikum (Greetings of Peace): 

My heart goes out to the families of the young brothers at the heart of this community crisis. My heartfelt concern also goes out to the young brothers themselves. CAIR’s media advisory announcing today’s press conference read in part: 

“The parents of the missing young people and local Muslim leaders recently informed CAIR of the disappearances. CAIR immediately informed the FBI and, along with the families and Muslim community leaders, has been working to assist the agency as the investigation moved forward. The families were also assisted in obtaining legal representation to make sure their constitutional rights were protected.

“At today's news conference, CAIR officials and other Muslim leaders will outline the sequence of events in the case, urge anyone aware of the missing group's activities to come forward and warn against the dangers of adopting or promoting extremist religious views.” 

I am concerned about the five young brothers for the following reasons: 

  1. They have no “constitutional rights” in Pakistan. They will be intensively interrogated. Will there interrogation involve torture, as was the case in Saudi Arabia with American-born Ahmed Abu-Ali?
  2. Will they be pressured for information on other individuals and/or groups so vigorously that they feel the need to make up what they don’t know?
  3. What charges might they face after they are returned to the United States? (And what other young Muslims may end up being arrested as a result of the investigation?)

Another burning question that comes to mind is how will this case – and the sensationalistic attention it will receive in the coming days – affect other young Muslims in America fed up with a decadent and soul-sapping status quo?!

As can be deduced from the aforementioned AP report (and the NPR broadcast that I heard earlier), one or more anonymous sources within law-enforcement have begun talking to the media, and the identity of at least one of the young brothers has already been leaked. In the NPR report the brothers were also alleged to have been attempting to hook up with an outlawed jihadi organization on the U.S. terrorism list. 

These types of incidents are going to continue to happen unless and until Muslims in America begin, in a substantive way, to address the root causes behind such reactionary tendencies – i.e. the wars raging in the Muslim world (accompanied by the tremendous loss of life and material devastation), and the general perception of weakness and surrender coming from Muslims in the West. 

To the young Muslims reading these words: I understand the pain and frustration that many of you are feeling; but romanticizing “jihad” in a foreign land (for those of you are) is NOT the answer! You can be much more effective (right here in America) if you are informed, organized and unafraid to push back in a manner that will not place you, your family or community in jeopardy.  

To the “leaders” of the community: Stop being so afraid, and in your fear, complicit. Open the masjid up to the type of political discourse that will give our young brothers and sisters the information and guidance they need to make informed and Islamically-acceptable choices. Stop saying things, and doing things, which (often out of a sense of shame) end up pushing them into the arms of conspirators both here and abroad!  

May this nasiha be accepted in the spirit in which it is being conveyed – out of love and a sense of urgency for this Ummah (and for the better of the two Americas). 

El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan 

P.S. I expect in the coming days that Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki will once again become the convenient scapegoat accused (or strongly suspected) of having radicalized unsuspecting young minds. I pray that "spokespersons" for the Muslim community will have the strength of mind and spirit to resist the hype!

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