Mystery shrouds man arrested in Pakistan

An American arrested in Pakistan while trying to travel illegally into a tribal area is a high-school dropout from Raleigh who went to his father's homeland to try to start a new life for himself, according to a friend of his family.

What kind of life Jude Mohammad planned to embark upon is the subject of an investigation by police in Pakistan's Mohmand Agency, who were given a court's permission Monday to hold Mohammad for two more weeks.

Mohammad, 19, had not been charged with a crime as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Nadeem Kiani, spokesman for the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington.

Khalilah Sabra, director of Muslim American Society Freedom's Raleigh office, said she has known Mohammad's family for five or six years through involvement in a mosque. Mohammad is one of several children raised in Wake County by their single mother, an American who converted to Islam. The children's father, a Pakistani, lived in the United States for a time but returned to Pakistan years ago.

Mohammad dropped out of Fuquay-Varina High School in January 2006, when he was in the 10th grade. Sabra said he did odd jobs such as mowing lawns, but had been unable to find full-time work. He enrolled at Wake Technical Community College in May, but was not enrolled there after July, according to the school.

Recently, Sabra said, one of Mohammad's sisters, with whom he had been living, moved out of the country, leaving him somewhat adrift.

"I think he thought he wouldn't be able to keep up the rent and the responsibility of a household," Sabra said. "He's young and sort of lost."

Only recently, Sabra said, did Mohammad decide to move to Pakistan, to work at a store his father owns in or near Peshawar.

Evan Risueno of Wilson, who told The Associated Press he was Mohammad's uncle, said Mohammad left Oct. 3 for Pakistan.

"I think it was a spontaneous decision," said Sabra, who has spoken with Mohammad's mother. She said that Mohammad reached his father's home safely, but that his father left town for a few days and when he returned, Mohammad was gone.

Forbidden tribal areas

Kiani, the embassy spokesman, said police arrested Mohammad on Oct. 13.

"He had a valid Pakistani visa but he did not have permission to enter the tribal areas," Kiani said. Permission is required for foreigners traveling in the area, he said, for their safety. Sabra described the region, along the Pakistani border with Afghanistan, as a militant stronghold.

When he was picked up, Kiani said, Mohammad told police he was going to visit a friend. He reportedly had a laptop computer and some maps, and was dressed in the fashion of local residents. Police are still trying to determine whether he had broken any laws, Kiani said.

Kiani said Mohammad is in good shape physically and has spoken with his family by phone.

Al-Qaida? No comment

Sabra said that Mohammad had not spoken with his mother, and that both women were concerned for Mohammad's safety while he is in custody. She said MAS Freedom NC is advocating for the protection of his civil rights.

"It's not unforeseeable that they would rough him up a bit," Sabra said. "There is no one to police the police."

Darby Holladay, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department in Washington, said he could not confirm Mohammad's name for privacy reasons, but said consular officials from Islamabad had gone to see the American since his arrest. As they would for any U.S. citizen, he said, the officials gave Mohammad a list of attorneys he could contact.

At a daily press briefing Friday, a reporter asked State Department spokesman Sean McCormack why the U.S. wasn't demanding Mohammad's release. McCormack answered that it was early in the process.

Sabra said she had always known Mohammad to be "a gentle soul."

When asked if he had been in contact with any known members of al-Qaida or other militant groups, she said, "I can't comment on that."

While in Wake County, the only police records Mohammad accumulated involved traffic citations, of which there are several. In June, a state Highway Patrol officer cited him for driving his motorcycle 105 mph in a 55-mph zone.

That charge was pending when Mohammad left the country. He was due in court the day he was arrested abroad. His court-appointed attorney, Earle R. Purser, has not heard from him since, he said this week.