Parents of alleged terrorists seek clues to sons' disappearance to Pakistan

By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On the Saturday morning in late November when Ahmed Abdullah Minni left his Alexandria home, quite possibly forever, he did his family's weekly grocery shopping as usual. He bought the snacks his mother needs for the award-winning preschool she runs out of their tidy blue home. He stocked up on his favorite treats: Florida orange juice with no pulp, the oatmeal cookies and rice pudding. He carefully stacked the provisions in the fridge and kitchen cabinets.

He put on latex gloves -- his family jokingly calls him "Mr. Neat" -- and sorted the laundry for his mother. Around 3 p.m., he walked to the mosque just down the street for prayers with his father and brothers.

Then he vanished. To Pakistan. An American kid on jihad.

Around 5 p.m., his mother became worried. This was not like him. This was not the son she considered her right hand, the one who had called her from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond several times a day when he was a freshman, just to let her know he was going to class. This was not the son who transferred to Northern Virginia Community College last fall because, he said, he missed her and his family. This was not her Hamada, her nickname for him, who called her even if he was right across Route 1 at Wal-Mart, just to check in and find out if she needed anything.

"Where are you?" she demanded when he picked up his cellphone.

He told her he was in Maryland at a conference. He would be home Sunday evening.

"You better come home right now!" she said, furious that he would leave without permission. She started compiling a mental list of chores, such as raking leaves, with which she would punish him. She hung up. That was Nov. 28. She hasn't heard his voice since.

This Saturday, Minni, who turned 20 shortly after disappearing, and four other friends from Northern Virginia, Umar Chaudhry, 24; Ramy Zamzam, 22; Waqar Khan, 22; and Aman Hassan Yemer, 18, will appear before a Pakistani judge on five counts each of terrorism-related charges. The prosecution will call 19 witnesses, according to Minni's Pakistani attorney, who will say that al-Qaeda recruited the five men to help terrorist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan fight against the United States. Each faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Hassan Katchela, their attorney in Pakistan, said the five have been tortured while in prison. "I am confident I will be able to prove that all the evidence the prosecution has is fabricated," he said in an interview. "They have nothing to connect these boys to any terrorist purpose."

That's certainly what the stunned families and close friends the five left behind want to believe. These young men, they say, spent their free time playing sports with the mosque's youth group, watching movies, using their annual passes to Six Flags, eating at Kebab Palace in Crystal City, studying with an eye to solid American futures.

But why did they leave so secretly and abruptly? Why has Ahmed written to his mother only that she must be patient, trust in Allah and not believe anything she hears?

"I am very, very sorry I left so suddenly," Aman Yemer, the youngest of the five, wrote his divorced father. But Aman, who has struggled with depression and other mental health issues, offered no explanation for his actions, his father said.

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