Here’s another story all but guaranteed to appear after suspected jihadists are arrested: interviews with friends or family members explaining that one or more of the accused are really nice guys. “The label of ‘radical Islamists’ puzzles kin,” by Dunstan McNichol and John P. Martin for The Star-Ledger:
Standing behind the counter of the family’s South Jersey convenience store yesterday, the mother of a man accused of plotting to attack Fort Dix said her son was innocent, honest and the victim of religious persecution.
“He doesn’t have a gun, he doesn’t have anything,” Fatem Shnewer said of Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer. He was targeted, she said, “because he’s religious.”
A day after prosecutors charged Shnewer and five others in connection with the alleged plot, Fatem Shnewer’s defense of her son added to the still-evolving picture of a group that authorities say could be a model for homegrown terrorists.
Shnewer is the only U.S. citizen in the group. Born in Jordan but raised in New Jersey, he lived with his family in Cherry Hill.
And while investigators said the plot had no single leader, it was Shnewer, at 22 the youngest defendant, who figures most prominently in the FBI affidavit that outlines the investigation.
“My heart kills me,” Fatem Shnewer said yesterday as she manned the register at Plaza Food Market, a tiny shop wedged in a Marlton Pike strip mall.
Mohamad is her only son, the eldest of six children and the only one born overseas. He still lives at home, in the room agents raided the other night.
“They took the computer, the Bible and bills,” Fatem Shnewer said. “He did not have anything (illegal).”
A curious detail: “the Bible” suggests a Christian Bible, an odd thing to find in the possession of a religious Muslim. He could have been looking for talking points for da’wah, or for features at odds with the Qur’an to get angry about. Or, it might have been a Qur’an, sometimes defined for the uninitiated as “the Islamic bible.”
Shnewer’s father, who shares the same first name, works as a supervisor and drive at All-City Taxi in South Philadelphia. James Atalah, a consultant who was handling media inquires for the company, said the elder Shnewer was responsible, hardworking and very religious.
“We have never seen anything bad from this gentleman,” Atalah said yesterday. “He treats the drivers good. He treats the customers good. This is really unbelievable.”
The younger Shnewer began driving cabs for the company about three months ago.
John Zuheir Mazahreh, a fellow driver for All-City Cab, often waited for fares with Shnewer at Philadelphia International Airport. He said he was shocked to hear about the arrest.
“He never said anything bad about this country,” Mazahreh said yesterday evening outside the South Philadelphia row house where he has lived for about six years. “I’ve never seen him mad. …He was joking, always smiling, laughing.”