Pakistani man from Maine says Times Square car bomber went from sociable student to terrorist

By David Sharp, AP
Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Maine detainee says NYC car bomber was sociable

PORTLAND, Maine — A Pakistani man detained in Maine for several weeks while authorities investigated an attempted car bombing in New York City’s Times Square says he harbors no resentment against federal agents, even the ones who took him at gunpoint.

Mohammad Shafiq Rahman told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he understands that agents thought he might be a terrorist because he once knew Faisal Shahzad, who later pleaded guilty to terrorism and weapons charges after the botched May 1 bombing attempt.

Rahman, of South Portland, knew Shahzad years ago as a typical college student who drank and partied — not as the radical Muslim who later said he received explosives training from the Pakistani Taliban. Rahman says he last saw Shahzad, a financial analyst and father of two from Bridgeport, Conn., in 2002.

Rahman, a computer specialist, distanced himself from terrorism in his first public remarks since being released from federal detention last week.

“The Taliban are terrorists. They are not Muslim extremists. They are terrorists. Period,” said Rahman, joined by his wife in Portland’s Deering Oaks Park. “It doesn’t come from faith. They’re using the faith, devotion of the faith, and manipulating the faith into wrong.”

He said he was treated well while he was detained for 15 weeks. He was released on Thursday but still faces an immigration review for overstaying his work visa.

Rahman, 33, was one of three Pakistani men taken into custody on May 13 in New England during the Times Square investigation. None of the three has been charged in connection with the Times Square case. Rahman said he didn’t know the other two men, cousins Pir Khan and Aftab Khan, who were detained in Watertown, Mass.

Federal investigators suggested the men may have given money to Shahzad through an informal money transfer network known as a hawala. But Rahman said he used Western Union and banks to wire money to Pakistan, often to family members. He said he was confident that none of the money was used to support terrorism.

Rahman came to the United States in 1999, and he said his work visa was extended twice. He said he assumed it was extended for a third time but his former employer apparently neglected the paperwork.

He didn’t realize there was a problem, he said, until armed agents emerged from unmarked SUVs as he parked his car a block from his Portland workplace. Later, more than a dozen officers searched his home, said his wife, Sara Rahman.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official declined to speak to the specifics of Mohammad Shafiq Rahman’s arrest but said ICE officers are trained professionals.

“We treat those we arrest humanely,” spokesman Harold Ort said. “At the same time we have to be concerned for officer safety during that arrest process.”

Rahman is now seeking to remain in the U.S. on his marriage. He and his wife married in March. His next immigration court hearing is scheduled for Sept. 14 in Boston.

Before his detention, Rahman worked as a computer programmer at Artist & Craftsman Supply, a company with more than a dozen stores from Portland to Los Angeles.

Larry Adlerstein, owner of the Portland-based chain of stores, said he already has agreed to hire Rahman back once he puts his immigration problems behind him. Adlerstein, who met with Rahman after his release from federal custody, said he’s impressed by the way Rahman handled his ordeal.

“After what he went through, there was no animosity. There was no anger,” Adlerstein said. “I continue to be impressed with this young man.”

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