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Bangladeshi accused of US plot a college dropout

A resident stands outside the apartment building where Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis lives in the Queens borough of New York October 17, 2012. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

DHAKA: A young Bangladeshi man accused of plotting to blow up the New York Federal Reserve is a bank manager's son who dropped out of the country's most liberal university before moving to the United States.

Authorities in New York allege that Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis travelled to the US with "the purpose of conducting a terrorist attack" and actively sought out Al-Qaeda contacts after his arrival.

But the family of the 21-year-old insist he had never displayed any radical tendencies but was rather a devout Muslim whose arrest had come as a deep shock.

"We're stunned. Nafis is not a radical type. He says prayers five times a day, and reads the holy Koran and Hadith every day. I have never seen him reading any books on jihad," his father Quazi Mohammad Ahsanullah told AFP on Thursday.

"We don't believe that he can have committed this... He is our pride and joy."

Nafis's extended family lives in North Jatrabari, an upper middle-class neighbourhood of southeastern Dhaka. His father is a senior vice president of National Bank and his sister is a doctor.

Speaking to AFP from the family home on Thursday, Nafis's brother-in-law Arik said they had spoken to him only hours before his arrest and even discussed a possible bride for him.

"We heard the news this morning. Everyone is crying here," said Arik. "Nafis never showed any form of radicalisation when he was in Bangladesh."

Nafis had been an unexceptional high school student but managed to get a place as an undergraduate at North South University, a private university known for being the country's most liberal centre of learning as well as its most expensive.

Bangladesh is an overwhelmingly Muslim and conservative country, but North South stands out as a place where upper-class male and female students can mingle freely on campus, usually dressed in designer Western clothing.

University officials said that Nafis had struggled during his eight semesters as an electrical engineering and telecommunications student and had been effectively forced to leave after disappointing exam results.

"He obtained one of the lowest exam point scores in December last year. He had already been under probation for three semesters," said Belal Ahmed, a spokesman at the university.

His family and Nafis's own Facebook page show that he then moved to the United States where he initially took up a place at Missouri Southern State University.

"We were afraid that he would be spoiled after going to America, but he told us that he remained a devout Muslim," said Ahsanullah.

"He completed only one semester at Missouri Southern University. But it was too costly. He went to New York and then took a job at a hotel."

Nafis has allegedly written a statement claiming responsibility for his planned attack in which he said he wanted to "destroy America" and referred to slain Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden as "beloved."

He has been charged with trying to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to support Al-Qaeda. Federal prosecutors office say he "attempted to recruit individuals to form a terrorist cell inside the United States".

But according to his father, Nafis's main concern was trying to scrape together a living to afford to pay for a computer science course and for the rent on a property he was sharing with a relative in the Queens district.

"He used to work 10 hours a day at the hotel," said Ahsanullah.

 

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