One sick ex-New Yprker

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Grachman, The

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Nov 9, 2001, 12:27:38 AM11/9/01
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A CALL TO FIGHT

Muslim warrior says NYC is home


By Anne Barnard, Globe Staff, 11/6/2001

SLAMABAD, Pakistan - He grew up in New York, he says, listening to
Whitney Houston, riding the roller coasters at Great Adventure, and,
until recently, working as a Java programmer at a dot-com company in
midtown Manhattan.


But sometime after Sept. 11, Mohammad Junaid says, he decided to leave
his $70,000-a-year job and join the Taliban's holy war against the
United States in hopes that he can someday help establish a new state
based on Islamic law.


Junaid, 26, who says he's the grandson of Pakistani immigrants, has a
teddy-bear face and a ready smile. He can't help grinning when he
thinks about the New York Yankees' come-from-behind victories last
week in the World Series, which, he said, he followed with great
interest as he awaited a call from Mullah Mohammed Omar to cross the
border and join in the Taliban's battle.


But his loyalties, he says, are clear; if he runs into an American
soldier in Afghanistan, even a fellow New Yorker from his old high
school in the Bronx, he will not hesitate to shoot him. ''No
problem,'' he says, ''because why is he there? To negotiate? Or to
kill Muslims?''


Junaid's mission is made more notable by what he says is one
additional fact: that his mother, a secretary, was on the 9th floor of
the World Trade Center when it was attacked. She escaped.


Much of Junaid's story is impossible to confirm, because - fearful, he
says, that he'd endanger family and friends - he refuses to give out
details of his life, such as where he went to school and worked, or
his address. He even declined to say whether the name he gave was his
legal one (and checks of various New York City public records for a
Mohammad Junaid produced no verifying information).


All that was certain was that the young man who goes by Mohammad
Junaid was in Islamabad last week awaiting the call to join the
Taliban. With him were two Britons who identified themselves as Hassan
Butt, 21, and Abdul Monim, 25.


All said they were members of Al-Muhajiroun, a London-based
international Islamic organization that claims to have recruited
hundreds of foreigners to help overthrow Pakistan's pro-US military
government and, if called, fight alongside the Taliban. Muslim groups,
such as the Muslim Parliament in Britain, have condemned the
organization and said it is exaggerating its number of recruits. One
Londoner, Abu Mindar, 26, told the Times of London last week that
Muhajiroun brought him first to Lahore, then to Afghanistan, and that
he ended up in a firefight with no training and shortly thereafter
deserted.


But Junaid was game nonetheless.


''I'm not against the American people. But there is hatred toward the
US government and the US military because their policies are killing
Muslims,'' Junaid said, citing US military support of Israel,
sanctions against Iraq, and now, civilian casualties in Afghanistan.


Wearing metal-rimmed glasses and the white tunic and pants favored by
Pakistani workers, Junaid refused to say whether he had any military
training or whether he had been involved in any fighting. ''That has
no relevance,'' he said.


He and his companions were cautious about interview conditions. The
three insisted they were being followed by Pakistani intelligence
agents, at one point fleeing down a back stairway and through a hotel
kitchen. They were not forthcoming on details - though Junaid's
outer-borough accent did make him a passable New Yorker.


He described what he said was his education at a New York college and
his work as an Islamic organizer in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and Jamaica,
Queens. Particularly when out of Butt's earshot, he spoke articulately
about Islam, about Muslim issues around the world, and about his own
political transformation.


''I'm not a New Yorker,'' he said. ''I'm a Muslim.''


In high school in the Bronx, he said, some students called him
''towelhead'' and ''Hindu.'' But it wasn't until college that his life
began to center on injustices against Muslims. He joined Islamic
student organizations and started following a stricter interpretation
of the religion.


On the morning of Sept. 11, he says, he was at home when someone
called him to say a plane had hit the World Trade Center. He waited a
few nervous hours to hear from his mother. Once he knew she was safe,
he said, ''I knew what was going to be next.'' He says he bought a
one-way ticket to Lahore. He claims his family knows and approves of
his plan.


For now, he says, he is organizing a political cell in Peshawar, and
planning to support protests against General Pervez Musharraf's
government. After that, he will do whatever the Taliban need.


''If Mullah Omar calls,'' he said, ''I'm ready.''


This story ran on page A12 of the Boston Globe on 11/6/2001.

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