PORTLAND, Maine — A Pakistani man detained during an investigation of a botched car bombing in New York City’s Times Square says he knew the plotter years ago as a partying college student — not as the radical Muslim who later said he received explosives training from the Pakistani Taliban.
Mohammad Shafiq Rahman told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he was a computer programmer working 18-hour days in Connecticut when he met Faisal Shahzad through his employer’s brother. Rahman said he and others joined Pakistani students on weekends at Shahzad’s dorm in Bridgeport, Conn. He recalled Shahzad as a typical student who drank and partied.
Rahman, who last saw Shahzad in 2002, distanced himself from Shahzad and 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.”
Rahman told the AP that he harbors no resentment toward federal agents, even the ones who took him at gunpoint, and he said he was treated well during 15 weeks of detention. 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. Rahman said he didn’t know the other two men, cousins Pir Khan and Aftab Khan, who were detained in Watertown, Mass.
The Khan cousins vehemently deny having any connection to Shahzad, their lawyer has said.
Rahman and the Khans haven’t been charged in connection with the Times Square case. Shahzad, a financial analyst and father of two, pleaded guilty to terrorism and weapons charges after the May 1 bombing attempt.
Federal investigators suggested the three 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 family members and to his company’s office in Pakistan. He said he was confident that none of the money was used to support terrorism.
Rahman, son of a Pakistani air force communication engineer, came to the United States in 1999 to work for a software company, 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 the family’s apartment in South Portland, 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. based on his marriage. He and his wife were in a relationship for several years before they married in March.
His wife, Sara Rahman, is an artist and the granddaughter of Gordon Parks, Life photographer and director of the movie “Shaft.” She’s now supporting the family, including her children, by working for her sister’s lobster company. Her husband’s next immigration hearing is scheduled for Sept. 14.
Sara Rahman said she knew there was no way her husband was involved in terrorism and said his calm demeanor helped her to cope.
“The impact Shafiq has had on my life has helped me to get through this calmly, gracefully, and really not jump on the panic of it all,” she said.
Before his detention, Mohammad Shafiq 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.”