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.