As we finish 2016, our thoughts at the BDN turn to the interesting people we met throughout the year. It’s been our privilege to share the snapshots of their lives, whether uplifting, tragic or surreal, with our readers.
Yet we know the story doesn’t end with our telling, and in fact, the story often changes greatly after we’ve told it. This makes “Whatever happened to …” a common refrain not only in our newsroom, but we expect, among the public as well.
That’s why, at the end of this year, we wanted to find out “whatever happened.” For the next few weeks, we’ll be touching base with several Mainers whose stories came to attention during the year. What we found may sadden, delight, or surprise. In all cases, we hope you enjoy them.
– Anthony Ronzio, Editor, BDN
PORTLAND, Maine — To many people, Adnan Fazeli is a dead terrorist. When details surfaced in August of an FBI investigation into his ties to the Islamic State, the one-time Maine resident also became a political flashpoint, personifying the schism in America over our treatment of refugees.
To Jabbar Fazeli, Adnan was a brother. One he still hopes to find.
Adnan’s body is somewhere overseas, likely in Lebanon, where he’s believed to have died at age 38 while fighting for the Islamic State. His death was the culmination of a descent into Islamic extremism that federal investigators discovered took root after Adnan moved here.
While Jabbar denounced his brother’s activities and reported him to the authorities, he still yearns to bury his brother near their parents’ home in the Iranian province of Khuzestan. Recent developments suggest that the worst of the conflict in neighboring Syria may have abated, meaning locating his brother could one day become a reality, Jabbar said.
“Maybe in a few years I could go and take care of finding Adnan,” he said.
Until then, he continues his attempts to reach out to Adnan’s three children, whom Jabbar has seen only once in the last few years. He’s not even sure whether they know the circumstances of their father’s death.
So, like he did last year, he will send them Christmas presents through a relative and hope the children receive his offerings. A globe for one child, an educational game for another, and a microscope for the youngest.
“I never hear back,” he said.
He remains leery of speaking out about his brother, fearful that the electronic footprint of his words about Adnan could pain the children in the years to come.
As they grow, their adopted country will continue to reckon with its openness to families such as theirs. While the election of Donald Trump has instilled fear among many immigrant communities, Jabbar sees a silver lining — the expected cuts to welfare benefits for immigrants.
Adnan, who traveled to the U.S. legally, relied on public assistance. Jabbar, a well-known physician in Maine, believes it robbed Adnan of the motivation to find a job and fully participate in American society. Had he found work in Maine, Adnan may have proved less susceptible to terrorist recruiters promising money and stature, Jabbar said.
“Some refugees don’t have a good understanding of this country,” Jabbar said. “They arrive and there’s a lot of incentive for them to go for the easy path of getting benefits from the state. They don’t come from countries that have welfare. The welfare society is us. They come and get sucked into the welfare culture and don’t achieve their full potential.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the timing of Jabbar Fazeli’s last visit with his brother’s children.