WASHINGTON, 26 November ó The fault of two Pakistani families, whose houses
were raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Pennsylvania last week,
was that they were seen bringing home a silver pot and throwing soap water in
their backyard. This was construed as part of a sordid plot to make anthrax by
their neighbors, who reported the details to FBI.
The raid was the latest in the series of hate crimes that Pakistanis have
being subjected to in the US after Sept. 11. The fact that the victim, Dr.
Irshad Shaikh, dealt with medicine and was a Muslim from a country that hosts
thousands of Taleban, fitted perfectly into the stereotype image held by the
neighbors and the FBI.
The FBI agents broke down his door on Tuesday and entered his house with guns
drawn, followed by members of a hazardous materials team in moon suits and gas
masks. They broke the doors, smashed furniture and kept the wife of one of the
victims at gunpoint for a considerable time.
Reports suggest that the FBI, acting on a tip related to its anthrax
investigation, carried out the raid in the middle of the day. Among the items
the agents confiscated were his computer and his motherís teddy bears. So scared
is the family that they are not even complaining about the incident.
Dr. Shaikh, 39, was trained as a radiologist in Pakistan and holds masterís
and doctoral degrees from John Hopkins University. His brother Masood is the
manager of Chesterís program to reduce lead hazards for children. A friend of
the family, Asif Kazi, a city accountant who is an American Pakistani, was also
subjected to lengthy questioning.
The FBI would not give any details of the cause of raid other than to say
agents were acting on credible information that they had spent more than two
weeks checking things out. But it looks like that the cause of suspicion was a
pot the brothers carried to Kaziís house so his wife could prepare biryani.
"Iím still in trauma," Kazi told The New York Times. "I cannot sleep
properly. I cannot eat. You are worried of the fear of the unknown. Whatís going
to happen tomorrow?" He explained that he had been at work, and his wife,
Palwasha, 38, had been home alone on Tuesday morning, cooking his lunch, when
she saw the armed agents running toward the house. "They broke the door," he
said. "They kept her sitting at gunpoint, in the dining room on a chair. Thatís
the standard procedure. I am not complaining."
Kazi said the agents questioned him about some Cipro tablets that they had
confiscated from his house. Cipro is one of the antibiotics used to treat
anthrax. Kazi said that a doctor had prescribed the drugs for his wife to treat
repeated bladder infections. He said the FBI also questioned him about "a cloudy
liquid" that he was reportedly seen dumping on the ground behind his home. He
said it was soap water from the washing machine that had backed up into the
adjacent sink. "My wife is a maniac as far as washing is concerned," he said.
He said agents had also asked about a large silver-colored canister that the
Shaikh brothers, who have been his friends for more than 20 years, were seen
putting into their car and unloading at his house. The canister, Kazi and the
Shaikh brothers said, was a large silver pot that they had brought for Mrs. Kazi
to use for her prized biryani.
"We are only a two-member family," Kazi said. "We use small pots. She told
them, ĎBring a big pot from your house so I can cook for you in quantity.í" The
FBI also raided Shaikhís health clinic, questioned a carpenter working there,
and seized, among other items, a Gatorade bottle filled with glue that had been
used to build shelves. For the FBI, everything and anything was a matter of
suspicion, even Pakistani spices. They had to explain about each food item. Kazi
may be the most law-abiding citizen in the community. He said that he had never
been in trouble, and had only got one parking ticket in his life.
Despite the torment, the families will appear before a federal grand jury on
Dec. 20 and there are chances that they may even lose their jobs. All because of
one silver pot and biryani. (Raabta)