A young wife and mother stood before the Department of Justice in Washington DC, holding her head high as she clutched a poster showing a photograph of the love of her life. Pedestrians walked by.
Sahar Ahmed married a network engineer from a decent Pakistani family. The kind of guy most girls dream about, pray for: good looking, fun-loving, and well educated.
Her husband, Farooque Ahmed, has been sentenced to 23 years in federal prison, and is currently being held in a Communications Management Unit.
He has been charged with attempting to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization, collecting information to assist in planning a terrorist attack on a transit system, and attempting to provide material support to carry out multiple bombings to cause mass casualties.
Ahmed immigrated to the United States from Pakistan in 1993, attended college in New York and moved to Northern Virginia in 2005 to work in the telecommunications field.
"I had to sell everything and find an alternative place to live,” said Sahar Ahmed. The family lived in a motel for almost a month after the arrest, and then moved from Virginia to New York.
"I prefer not to talk about the case... I have never had an unmonitored conversation with my husband after his arrest,” Sahar told the Muslim Link.
She has as many unanswered questions as does the rest of the world. However, she believes that her husband Ahmed was targeted due to his religious beliefs and is a political prisoner of pre-emptive prosecution.
"My local Muslim community, except for a very few friends, abandoned us ... I felt very disappointed with them" she says. Sahar Ahmed had been a part of a new mothers group in Northern Virginia which disbanded in the aftermath of the arrest. She now finds solace in meeting other Muslim families through civil liberties groups like the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF) and Project Salaam who have similar stories.
But this misery would rather not have company.
She works full time to support herself, son & husband. "I send him money for seasonal clothes, to be able to communicate with us via emails and phone calls, to purchase additional food items and to buy books, ," says Sahar Ahmed in a matter of fact tone, not demanding any pity, as in the background another family took the stage to demand justice.
"The way he provided for his family it’s my duty to provide for anything he needs, I will not say no to him if he needs anything," she says. Sahar Ahmed has this aura of collected energy, not letting her emotions through, not demanding pity, like she is here and a million miles away at the same time.
Ramy Osman is an old friend from the masjid Ahmed attended in New York; he was at the rally with a big sign that read "The FBI is good at catching terrorist that they trick into becoming terrorists, in the real world the FBI can't even catch people they monitor."
Osman lives in Virginia. He thinks many people in the community were scared that they would be called terrorist sympathizers and abandoned Sahar. "People take the headlines for granted without trying to understand that it is more complicated than that," says Osman, who is part of an organization called Muslims for Liberty.
"I have not talked to him about the case or his thought process," says Osman.
Could Ahmed have ever brought anything to fruition if the FBI was not involved in creating this manufactured case? Osman does not think so.
"I understand that it takes months of convincing, planning for this exchange of information."
He thinks someone befriended Ahmed, an informant, and 'worked' on Ahmed's weaknesses on behalf of the FBI: his short temper, and naiveté. Someone who targeted Ahmed after his verbalization of unpopular views, opposition to foreign policy, which is within his rights. Someone who was a new addition to Farooque's life prior to his arrest sent on a mission to entrap Ahmed. "I can not trust any new [friendships] after an experience like this," says Osman.
In a clipped British accent, Sahar Ahmed hesitantly tells me how she works full time while her mother in law takes care of her son. Brave enough to protest her husband's case on the streets of the capital
CMUs permit eight hours visitation, in a month, and no contact, meaning the visitor and inmate are in separate rooms with viewing through a glass window and talk via telephone. Prisoners in the CMU, alone out of all general population prisoners within the federal system, are categorically banned from any physical contact with visiting friends and family, including babies, infants, and minor children. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, Muslims make up two-thirds of the CMU population.
"My son keeps me going; he asks to hug his father when we make the trip out to Indiana to see him, It seems unfair that we cannot even sit in the same room as him. They visit him when they can, a long trip that costs several thousand dollars. The bus arranged by the National Coalition of Protection of Civil Freedom and Project Salaam for the families of is ready to leave after the rally. They could have been any group of tourists, but they were here on a mission to ask the red, white, blue to stand up for justice.
Face after face, name after name of brothers, sons, husbands whom they call political prisoners and the justice system calls convicted terrorists. Many of these families have been marginalized, emotionally and economically isolated.
"I did not know anything; they came to my son's house and started ransacking everything," Ahmed's mother, who was at the house that day, slipping from gentrified English into Punjabi tinted Urdu. Eyelashes wet with tears that have fallen every night as she remembers his jokes, his quirks, habits. "He loved, no, loves eating home cooked food ." She is desperately lost for a second, in time, still not coming to terms with what happened, while sitting on a bench across the street from the FBI headquarters.
His face was plastered all over the news even on Pakistani news channels. Friends and family around the world saw the headlines, her family, her parenting indicted in the court of public opinion. "He was angry, could not stand injustice and hated politics, but he never hurt anyone," says Mrs. Ahmed, shielding her face from the D.C. sun with a poster. "He was a good husband and a good son, and now my son who would not let a fly near him is in a gulag," she cries as she tries to put the puzzle together.
"What am I supposed to do?" Mrs. Ahmed laments. Her daughter in law is young. "I feel for her; how will she spend the rest of her life?"
The Ahmeds were booked to leave for Hajj just five days after his arrest, now Sahar Ahmed is on a long pilgrimage through life with baggage that she never prayed for.