There was a revealing moment in the testimony of Zarein Ahmedzay last week in the trial of Abid Naseer. No-one else in the Brooklyn courthouse paid it much heed. But it gave this former Pakistan correspondent an opportunity for a wry smile.
Ahmedzay was one of three young American Muslims – two of Pakistani and Afghan extraction and one of Bosnian origin – who travelled to Peshawar with hopes of joining the Taliban. From there they set off to drive to Afghanistan but are stopped by police.
There’s a problem.
One of the men Adis Medunjanin can’t answer the officers’ questions for he speaks no Urdu or Pashto. To make matters worse, he shows them his US passport. Zarein tries to tell the officers they are merely tourists and that he is Adil’s translator.
This is August 2008. And the officers sense they are on to something big. Peshawar is something of a hub for foreign fighters joining the insurgent groups based along the border with Afghanistan. So of course they arrest the three on suspicion of being American spies…
They are told they are being taken to the local police chief. Ahmedzay tries to come clean…
“I told them that I was not an interpreter and Adil was not a spy. Adis started to recite the Koran, so they knew he wasn’t a kafir [unbeliever].”
Say this in front of the police chief, they are advised. When they do, they are promptly released.
Shortly thereafter they are recruited by al-Qaeda and two years later they were all arrested for their part in a plot to bomb the New York Subway.