‘I am fed up with this evil’: How an American went from Ivy League student to disillusioned ISIS fighter

Washington Post:

In late October 2014, the FBI received an unusual email from a young man named Mohimanul Alam Bhuiya.

Bhuiya, then 25, had joined the Islamic State. Now the longtime Brooklyn resident was desperate and looking for a way out. He wanted the FBI to rescue him.

“I am an American who’s trying to get back home from Syria,” he wrote in his email, according to federal court documents unsealed last month. “I just want to get back home. All I want is this extraction, complete exoneration thereafter, and have everything back to normal with me and my family.”

He added: “I am fed up with this evil.”

The FBI was still verifying his identity when Bhuiya managed to escape about a week later. He returned to the United States, where he was promptly arrested and charged with providing material support and receiving military training from the Islamic State.

In a closed courtroom in Brooklyn, he pleaded guilty to both counts on Nov. 26, 2014, according to the court filings. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

Bhuiya’s name is redacted in the documents, but several U.S. law enforcement officials confirmed his identity. His lawyer did not return a message, and efforts to reach his family were unsuccessful.

Prosecutors told the judge that redacting his name was “necessary to protect the integrity of the ongoing government investigations and the safety of the defendant and his family.” But NBC News in May ran an interview with Bhuiya, with cooperation from the Justice Department, in which he appeared under the name “Mo” with his face completely unobscured.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn declined to comment.

Bhuiya was not your average wayward Islamic State recruit. Unlike many of the people the Justice Department has charged in connection with the terrorist group, Bhuiya appeared to have a bright future. He attended Columbia University before he fell under the sway of the Islamic State.

“A young man from an Ivy League school challenges the conventional wisdom of a typical American ISIS recruit,” said Seamus Hughes, the deputy director at the program on extremism at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber & Homeland Security and a former National Counterterrorism Center staffer.

Bhuiya went to high school in Brooklyn. He seemed to be a well-adjusted student who took a serious interest in Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, according to a 2008 essay he wrote for the school newspaper entitled “Sample College Essay: My Superhero.”

He praised President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, who “fought a worldwide battle against the evil supervillain Adolf Hitler.”

In the essay, he said he wanted to major in psychology. He concluded: “I believe that I have greatness in me,” he wrote. “I want to be a superhero.”

According to a Columbia University spokesman, Bhuiya attended the School of General Studies. He was enrolled for one semester from January to May 2013 and did not earn a degree.

Bhuiya had come to the attention of the FBI before he traveled to Syria. According to court documents, investigators with the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York learned in June 2014 that the young man might be planning to travel to Syria.

When authorities interviewed Bhuiya at his home in Brooklyn, he told investigators that he was interested in events in Syria and supported “rebel groups.” But he claimed he lacked the money to travel to Syria and “did not know what he would do if he got there.”

Days later, he flew to Istanbul and then managed to enter Syria. He had little interest in fighting.

He implored Islamic State commanders not to “send me off to the front lines because I can be useful in other ways,” according to the NBC interview. “It seemed to me that it would, you know, save my skin.”

Bhuiya said he quickly became disillusioned and described the Islamic State as “dystopia.”

“You could see madness in their eyes,” he recalled. Bhuiya decided to flee. In the email to the FBI, he said he did not have a passport because the Islamic State had taken it. He asked if someone could pick him up at the border.

“Please help me get home,” he told the FBI.

According to court documents, Bhuiya managed to escape across the border into Turkey and make his way to a U.S. State Department outpost in Adana, which is in the southern part of the country.

He admitted that he had joined and worked for the Islamic State. He said he carried a weapon but had never been involved in fighting.

It is not clear where Bhuiya is being held as he awaits sentencing.

Court documents indicate that prosecutors, at Bhuiya’s request, had been exploring the possibility of going public with his story.

 

Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/i-am-fed-up-with-this-evil-how-an-american-went-from-ivy-league-student-to-disillusioned-isis-fighter/2016/06/29/155e777e-3e07-11e6-80bc-d06711fd2125_story.html

US: Terrorism Prosecutions Often An Illusion [PDF DOWNLOAD]

July 21, 2014

DOWNLOAD FULL PDF REPORT: Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions

Investigations, Trials of American Muslims Rife with Abuse

(Washington, DC) –The US Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have targeted American Muslims in abusive counterterrorism “sting operations” based on religious and ethnic identity, Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute said in a report released today. Many of the more than 500 terrorism-related cases prosecuted in US federal courts since September 11, 2001, have alienated the very communities that can help prevent terrorist crimes.

The 214-page report, “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions,”examines 27 federal terrorism cases from initiation of the investigations to sentencing and post-conviction conditions of confinement. It documents the significant human cost of certain counterterrorism practices, such as overly aggressive sting operations and unnecessarily restrictive conditions of confinement.

“Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch and one of the authors of the report. “But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”

The report is based on more than 215 interviews with people charged with or convicted of terrorism-related crimes, members of their families and their communities, criminal defense attorneys, judges, current and former federal prosecutors, government officials, academics, and other experts.

In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act. Multiple studies have found that nearly 50 percent of the federal counterterrorism convictions since September 11, 2001, resulted from informant-based cases. Almost 30 percent were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot.

“The US government should stop treating American Muslims as terrorists-in-waiting,” Prasow said. “The bar on entrapment in US law is so high that it’s almost impossible for a terrorism suspect to prove. Add that to law enforcement preying on the particularly vulnerable, such as those with mental or intellectual disabilities, and the very poor, and you have a recipe for rampant human rights abuses.”

These abuses have had an adverse impact on American Muslim communities. The government’s tactics to seek out terrorism suspects, at times before the target has demonstrated any intention to use violence, has undercut parallel efforts to build relationships with American Muslim community leaders and groups that may be critical sources of information to prevent terrorist attacks.

In some communities, these practices have deterred interaction with law enforcement. Some Muslim community members said that fears of government surveillance and informant infiltration have meant they must watch what they say, to whom, and how often they attend services.

“Far from protecting Americans, including American Muslims, from the threat of terrorism, the policies documented in this report have diverted law enforcement from pursuing real threats,” Prasow said. “It is possible to protect people’s rights and also prosecute terrorists, which increases the chances of catching genuine criminals.”

CIA made doctors torture suspected terrorists after 9/11, taskforce finds

November 3, 2013

 

Doctors were asked to torture detainees for intelligence gathering, and unethical practices continue, review concludes Doctors and psychologists working for the US military violated the ethical codes of their profession under instruction from the defence department and the CIA to become involved in the torture and degrading treatment of suspected terrorists, an investigation has concluded.

The report of the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centres concludes that after 9/11, health professionals working with the military and intelligence services “designed and participated in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees”.

Medical professionals were in effect told that their ethical mantra “first do no harm” did not apply, because they were not treating people who were ill.

The report lays blame primarily on the defence department (DoD) and the CIA, which required their healthcare staff to put aside any scruples in the interests of intelligence gathering and security practices that caused severe harm to detainees, from waterboarding to sleep deprivation and force-feeding.

The CIA’s office of medical services played a critical role in advising the justice department that “enhanced interrogation” methods, such as extended sleep deprivation and waterboarding, which are recognised as forms of torture, were medically acceptable. CIA medical personnel were present when waterboarding was taking place, the taskforce says.

Although the DoD has taken steps to address concerns over practices at Guantánamo Bay in recent years, and the CIA has said it no longer has suspects in detention, the taskforce says that these “changed roles for health professionals and anaemic ethical standards” remain.

“The American public has a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional ethical expectations is firm regardless of where they serve,” said Dr Gerald Thomson, professor of medicine emeritus at Columbia University and member of the taskforce.

 

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/04/cia-doctors-torture-suspected-terrorists-9-11

Avicenna Scholarship for Muslim students

Talented Muslims students are given the opportunity to finance their studies through the Avicenna-Studienwerk, which was established in March 2012. Two students called Matthias Meyer (University of Konstanz) and Beschir Hussain (WHU and Columbia University) had the initial idea to create a foundation for Muslim students. The association was founded in March 2012 by researchers and students in Osnabrück. The director of the Institute for Islamic Theology Bülent Ucar spoke about a historical step towards recognition and equality of Muslims in Germany.

Selected undergraduate students receive 670 Euros per month and doctoral students receive 1050 Euros per month. The Mercator foundation is supporting the Avicenna-Studienwerk with 1 Mio. Euros for the duration of five years. The Ministry for Education and Science will support the Avicenna-Studienwerk with another 7 Mio. Euros.

The average rate of Muslims in Germany is about 4.6% to 5.2%. However the Muslim representation rate is just below 3% at German Universities.  The aim of the Avicenna-Studienwerk is to create equal opportunities for talented Muslims to participate and engage in German society.

Poll: Most Americans do not identify Obama as Christian

Republicans from time to time have accused President Obama of playing identity politics. Here’s the problem: The electorate remains confused about his identity.

The problem is most famously manifested in persistent conspiracy theories, driven by conspiracy-loving “birthers,” about Obama’s birthplace and citizenship. But voters remain muddled about his religion as well, as a new Gallup poll confirms.

The poll released Friday shows that just 34% of Americans can identify Obama as a Christian or, more specifically, as a Protestant. Eleven percent remain convinced that he is Muslim, and 44% say they don’t know.

That is striking, because few presidents have spoken and written as much about their faith as Obama. His Christianity, in fact, ignited the biggest controversy of his 2008 campaign when incendiary videos of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s longtime pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, went viral on the internet. Obama eventually severed ties with Wright, and since then has attended a variety of Christian churches. He uses Christian language and imagery often in speeches

The Gallup findings were remarkably consistent with those of a Pew Research Center poll in August 2010, in which 34% of those surveyed said Obama was Christian, 18% said Muslim and 43% said they didn’t know.

It is also notable that the matter is even an issue. Randall Balmer, a professor of American religious history at Columbia University and the author of “God in the White House: How Faith Shapes the Presidency — from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush,” has noted that there was a time in American politics when the electorate didn’t pay any attention to the president’s religion and didn’t particularly care.

How many Americans, he has asked, knew the religious denomination of Lyndon Johnson? (He was a member of the Disciples of Christ.)

The Gallup poll was based on telephone interviews conducted June 7-10 with a random sample of 1,004 adults nationwide. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Muslim Students in NYC Rally to Demand School Holidays

Islam is the fastest growing religion in NYC, and according to a Columbia University study, 120,000 of the school’s 1.1 million students are Muslim. But the DOE does not recognize Islamic holidays on the school calendar, and Muslim students who miss school for religious holiday’s have to make up for the schoolwork they missed. Last year the City Council passed a resolution calling for two Muslim holy days, Eid-ul Adha and Eid-ul Fitr, to be added to the school calendar, but Mayor Bloomberg, who has the final say in which holidays are approved, has not taken action…

Alavi Foundation funded NYC grade school; Harvard, Rutgers, and Columbia programs

The Alavi Foundation, recently accused of illegally providing funding and services to Iran, supported Middle Eastern culture and language programs at Harvard to promote Islamic education. Harvard Spokesman Kevin Galvin said that officials of the university were unaware of Alavi’s ties.

Middle East studies Professor Roger Owen received grants from Alavi for his work at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

The organization has also donated hundreds of thousands to Rutgers University and Columbia University to fund Persian language and culture programs. It also owns the Razi School, a private Islamic grade school in Queens.

They continue to deny charges of funding Iran and are fighting government efforts to seize their properties, which include mosques around the country.

Geert Wilders delivers speech to Columbia University

Geert Wilders addressed an audience of around 150 students at Columbia University denouncing the spread of Islam. The event was sponsored by Columbia College Republicans in defense of free speech.

“I think it is important that we can hear what he has to say,” Wijnie de Groot, a Dutch lecturer at Columbia, said of Wilders. “Banning him or preventing him from speaking does not serve any purpose. On the contrary, we need to hear what a politician such as Wilders has to say so that we can voice an opinion and reaction to it.”

“CUCR invited Geert Wilders not because of his views, which the club does not in any way endorse, but rather because he is one of the more prominent victims of free speech limitation in Europe and in other parts of the world,” the campus Republicans wrote. “As anyone who has studied the history of free speech knows, its defense lies not where mainstream views are voiced but rather among those who hold unpopular, offensive, or extreme views.”

While Wilders was invited to discuss free speech, he interjected his views on Islam into his address, remarking that “The Quran is an evil book, full of violence, murder, terrorism, war,” “Muhammad was not a perfect man—he was a mass murderer and a pedophile,” and “Europe is in the process of becoming ‘Eurabia.’” He maintained that he did not hate Muslims, distinguishing between the Muslim people and the “ideology” of Islam.

“We didn’t invite him to talk about his views on Islam,” the Republicans wrote in a statement released on Thursday. “We find the fact that he spent so much of his speech talking about those views regrettable, but he did explain that those views play a part in his concern for free speech.”

Secularisation & Secularism

Secularisation – the process of a dividing the realms of politics and religion – has been influencing national and worldly affairs for several hundred years. The idea of the desirability of such a division – secularism – is nowadays a given backdrop for public policy issues regarding education, family, gender, media, migration, personal integrity and freedom, reproduction and sexuality. But globalisation and multicultural trends, as well as claims from religious groups for increased political influence or autonomy and the uncertain and varying responses to these from society, have made us aware that the secularist ideal has been realized through the process of secularisation in radically different ways in different settings. As a result, an identity crisis is presently afflicting secular societies. It is no longer as clear what secularism is supposed to amount to, why secularisation is desirable and where its proper limits are. To investigate questions about this is the focus of a newly initiated multidisciplinary research theme at the University of Gothenburg.

Speakers

  • ABDULLAHI AN-NA’IM, Human Rights Law, Emory University
  • KENT GREENAWALT, Law, Columbia University
  • BRIAN PALMER, Anthropology & Religion, Uppsala University & University of Gothenburg
  • PAUL WEITHMAN, Philosophy, University of Notre Dame
  • LINDA WOODHEAD, Religious Studies, Lancaster University

Venue

Registration

The conference is open to the public and free of charge. Registration is required for attendance.

Contact & Information

Website

Email: secularism@filosofi.gu.se

Interpreting the Islamic Tradition in the Contemporary World

All members of the Harvard community are cordially invited to attend the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program’s first annual conference entitled, “Interpreting the Islamic Tradition in the Contemporary World.” Events will be held on Saturday, November 3 and Sunday, November 4. The agenda for the conference events is below. The conference is free, including the lunch reception on November 3 and the Gamelan performance on November 4. The events will take place on the first floor of the Barker Center both days.

Saturday, November 3

9:30 am – 12:30 pm

  • Thompson Room, Barker Center
  • John Bowen, Washington University in Saint Louis: “Ibn Ashur in Aceh and Paris: Adapting Shar?`a by way of its Objectives”
  • Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Princeton University: “Religious Authority and the Language of Ijtihad in Contemporary Sunni Islam”
  • Asef Bayat, Leiden University: “Fun and Fundamentalism”
  • 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm Barker Center Middle Eastern lunch reception for members of the Harvard community

    2:00 pm to 5:00 pm Thompson Room, Barker Center

  • Said Arjomand, State University of New York-Stony Brook: “Islamic Constitutionalism: Paradoxes and Pitfalls in the Appropriation of the Islamicate Political Tradition”
  • Farid Esack, Harvard University: “Redeeming Islam: Constructing the Good Muslim Subject in Contemporary Religious Studies”
  • Omid Safi, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill: “Reforming Islam in the ’Axis of Evil’: Contesting Islam in Post-Revolutionary Iran”
  • Sunday, November 4

    9:30 am – 12:30 pm Thompson Room, Barker Center

  • Mahmood Mamdani, Columbia University: “Distinguishing Bigotry from Blasphemy in Contemporary Freedom of Speech Debates”
  • David Cook, Rice University: “Faith and Fornication: Behind the Murji’a Debate in Contemporary Islam”
  • Sherman Jackson, University of Michigan: “Ibn Taymya and Black Theodicy”
  • 12:30 pm – 2:30 pm

  • Barker Center Concluding remarks, closing reception
  • Performance by Boston Village Gamelan Group