On July 6, 2011 the FBI had secretly arrested 17 year old Mohammed Khalid, a high school graduate of Ellicott City, Maryland, for terrorism related offences.
His family disclosed that he was questioned by the FBI, without a parent or lawyer present, at least eight times while he was 15 and 16 years old.
Mohammed Khalid’s relatives do not know much about the allegations –or what Mohammed told the FBI –but are confused and angry that they allowed the boy to spend so much time with agents.
“When they said, ‘Can we take him out for a few hours?’ it seemed so informal,” one relative said. “And now, in a way, we feel cheated.”
“Now we know that was a mistake. We had thought everything was taken care of and fine because he talked to the FBI so many times –but the next thing you know, a year later, without any warning, the FBI took Mohammed away. It was a shock to us and to him.”
Khalid had been the rare case of a juvenile in federal custody after his arrest, when he was held at a state youth facility in Berks County. However, he turned 18 late last month and has been moved to a federal adult prison.
Federal charges against juveniles are rare. Nationally, only 100 juveniles are serving federal sentences, and federal officials could not cite another juvenile who has been arrested on terror-related charges.
The reed-thin, serious-looking young man appeared older than his years. Mohammad Khalid had no family or friends in the Philadelphia courtroom. His parents, legal U.S.residents from Pakistan who had pushed their four children to excel in school, were working, a defense lawyer said.
Mohammad Hassan Khalid, now 18, entered a plea of not guilty at his first public court appearance this October.
His lawyer did not seek bail for him although Khalid is due back in court on Nov. 16 to determine where he should be held. A judge set a Dec. 13 trial date, but that is almost certain to be moved given the complexity of the case.
In an indictment released last month, it is alleged that Mohammed Khalid was 15 when he allegedly conspired with Colleen LaRose of Pennsburg, Montgomery County, to solicit money and recruits for a jihad. His case is now unsealed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
Mohammed’s father works for a delivery company, his family having emigrated from rural Pakistan four years ago. The family members are all legal residents of the United States, and moved to America for better educational opportunities for their children.
Mohammed and his siblings shined in school, but did not socialize much, relatives said, because their parents insisted that they stick to their studies. “School, education is everything,” a family member said. “If you waste one second on anything else, you are disrespecting your elders.”
A year after they arrived, Mohammed found himself excelling academically, but also, to the concern of other family members, spending hours alone online. He became moody and did not talk much, though he never spoke of violent, religious, or political thoughts –the kind of comments authorities claim he made on the internet.
“We hoped he’d come out of his shell more when he went off to college,” the family said.
His parents are the first in the family to be literate; the children were to be the first generation to attend college. Relatives say that Mohammed was headed to Johns Hopkins University on a full scholarship this fall, a dream shattered by his sudden arrest.
He was also an aspiring writer who received an honorable mention in a contest last year for an essay titled Voices Around the World. A Hopkins spokesman has said that Khalid withdrew from the university after his arrest.
“It’s a true American immigrant story,” another defense attorney said in an interview. “That has turned into a nightmare,” added his colleague.
Mohammed’s outlook changed after the FBI seized the family’s computers last year and began meeting with him. Mohammed seemed to become more social and distanced himself from his former habits, relatives said.
The indictment alleges that in July 2009, when Mohammed was 15, he posted “an online solicitation for funds to support terrorism on behalf of defendant Colleen R. LaRose, a.k.a. Jihad Jane.”
Mohammed’s arrest came six months after LaRose pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, including providing a U.S.passport, and lying to FBI agents about it. A co-conspirator, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez of Leadville,Colo., pleaded guilty to providing material aid to terrorists. Both LaRose and Paulin-Ramirez remain in custody. No sentencing dates have been set.
Khalid’s lawyer, Jeffrey M. Lindy, believes LaRose helped the FBI build its case against the teenager.
“I absolutely think she rolled over in a heartbeat (against him),” Lindy said after the arraignment.
The other alleged coconspirators –including Mohammed and the Irish suspects –are cited in the LaRose indictment only by geographic location, numbers, and “CC,” the code for co-conspirator. In the public document, sources said Mohammed is “CC#4, a resident of the United States.”
The FBI believes that Mohammed was part of the conspiracy, and that he met LaRose in a jihadist chatroom.
“I write this message on behalf of a respected sister,” Mohammed allegedly wrote. “The sister has been in touch with a brother [who] appealed for urgent funds stating that his resources are limited. The sister has provide me proofs that have confirmed that the brother is . . . true. . . . I know the sister and by Allah all money will be transferred to her. The sister will then transfer the money to the brother via a method that I will not disclose.”
The LaRose indictment also alleges that Mohammed forwarded her a questionnaire “in which [he] asked another woman about her beliefs and intentions with regard to jihad.”
At the end of the questionnaire, prosecutors said, Mohammed wrote:
“The reason why I am not providing much information as to why I am asking the above-mentioned information is due to security. . . . Also, if you have any contacts to other sisters (only the ones whom you extremely trust. . .!!!), please forward this message to them.”
Lindy questioned the government’s interpretation of Khalid’s posts.”I dispute that he is a terrorist”
“I think they assume a much more nefarious and sinister connotation than what’s really there,” he said Monday.
Family members remain shocked, they said. They believe Mohammed was lured by an adult and was too young to understand the consequences.
“Some 47-year-old woman was taking advantage of a kid who was just 14 or 15 years old, someone who’s easy to brainwash,” a relative said. “How did this happen?”
Khalid faces a 15-year prison term and deportation to his native Pakistan if convicted. The indictment issued recently charges him along with an Algerian man, 46-year-old Ali Charaf Damache, the husband of Ramirez, who remains jailed in Ireland and awaiting extradition.
The disturbing nature of the investigation entails the fact that Khalid was only 14 or 15 years old when interrogated without counsel by the FBI who later arrested him while he was still a minor, and then further waited until 18th birthday to charge him of any crime.
The family fears that he may have been easily intimidated into cooperating under the pretext that said cooperation would exempt him from further prosecution and that the teenager had not realized the full gravity speaking candidly with law enforcement.
In light of the Department of Justice and US Government’s history concerning the disregard for Geneva Conventions pertaining to child prisoners and soldiers, the domestic war on terror may be following suit with test cases such as Omar Khadr, 15 when abducted by US soldiers, and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, 16 when extrajudicially murdered by a US CIA drone strike on a picnic.