The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

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Date: Sun, 10 Apr 2005 21:42:54 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Girl, 16, Arrested as Terrorist Threat

Teachers and Classmates Express Outrage at Arrest of Girl,
16, as a Terrorist Threat

By Nina Bernstein

April 9, 2005, The New York Times

At Heritage High School in East Harlem, where the student
idiom is hip-hop and salsa, the 16-year-old Guinean girl
stood out, but not just because she wore Islamic dress. She
was so well liked that when she ran for student body
president, she came in second to one of her best friends -
the Christian daughter of the president of the parent-teacher
association, Deleen P. Carr.

Now Ms. Carr, a speech pathologist who calls herself "a
typical American citizen," is as outraged as the girl's
teachers and classmates, who have learned that the girl and
another 16-year-old are being called would-be suicide bombers
and are being held in an immigration detention center in

"They have painted this picture of her as this person that is
trying to destroy our way of life, and I know in my heart of
hearts that this is bogus," said Ms. Carr, who welcomed the
Guinean girl to her house daily and knows her family well. "I
feel like, how dare they? She's a minor, and even if she's
not a citizen, she has rights as a human being."

According to a government document provided to The New York
Times by a federal official earlier this week, the Federal
Bureau of Investigation has asserted that both girls are "an
imminent threat to the security of the United States based on
evidence that they plan to be suicide bombers." No evidence
was cited, and federal officials will not comment on the

Its mysteries deepened as teachers and neighbors gave details
of the Guinean girl's life, like the jeans she wore under her
Muslim garb, her lively classroom curiosity about topics like
Judaism and art and her after-school care for four younger
siblings while her parents, illegal immigrants who have lived
in the United States since 1990, eked out a living.

"I just can't fathom this," said her art teacher, Kimberly
Lane, who has repeatedly called the youth detention center
but like Ms. Carr was not allowed to speak to the girl, who
has no lawyer. Among the unanswered questions they raised was
why, if she was really a suspect, no F.B.I. agent had shown
up to search her school locker or question her classmates,
who sent her letters of support.

"This is a girl who's been in this country since she was 2
years old," Ms. Lane said. "She's just a regular teenager -
like, two weeks ago her biggest worry was whether she'd done
her homework or studied for a science test."

Until now, attention has focused on the other 16-year-old, a
Bangladeshi girl reared in Queens who could not deal with the
hurly-burly of her West Side high school and withdrew into
home schooling. Yesterday, on a motion of the government, an
immigration judge closed the Bangladeshi girl's bond hearing
to the public and adjourned it to next Thursday, said Troy
Mattes, a lawyer who is taking over the case but has yet to
meet her.

By the Bangladeshi girl's account, reported by her mother,
the girls did not meet until March 24, after their separate
arrests in early-morning raids on immigration charges against
their parents. Both grew up in Islamic families. But while
the Bangladeshi girl had grown increasingly pious, and
uncomfortable in the urban culture of the High School of
Environmental Studies on West 56th Street, the Guinean girl,
a 10th grader, embraced every aspect of Heritage High, at
106th Street and Lexington Avenue, her teachers said.

"She is, yes, an orthodox Muslim, but completely integrated
into this school," said Jessica Siegel, her English teacher
in a class in which topics like teenage pregnancy and world
politics were discussed. Ms. Siegel was profiled in the book
"Small Victories," by Samuel G. Freedman, as an
unsentimental, but fiercely committed teacher who provoked
and delighted her students.

"She's a wonderful, wonderful girl," Ms. Siegel said. "She's
about the last person anyone could imagine being a suicide

The English teacher's most vivid recollection was of a day
two months ago when she heard a kind of roar in the hallway
of the school, which is full of colorful student collages and
life-size sculptures in papier-m�ch�. The teenager had
stopped wearing her veil, and she beamed as her fellow
students, seeing her face for the first time, cheered.

After the class read "Night," the Holocaust memoir by Elie
Wiesel, the girl wrote a paper about genocide in the Sudan,
she recalled. But she was so excited about a field trip to
see Christo's "Gates" in Central Park, Ms. Siegel said, that
she skipped an appointment at immigration - a teenage impulse
the teacher now worries might have set off problems with
federal authorities. Her father is now in immigration jail
facing deportation.

At Woodrow Wilson Houses a few blocks from the school, a
sticker on the family's apartment door reads, "Allah is our
protector." Yesterday no one was home, but across the hall,
Christine Anderson, a neighbor, shook her head in disbelief
when she learned why she had not seen the girl or her father
in recent weeks.

"Why would they take the lady's daughter?" she asked.
"They're nice people, and hard-working people. I've been here
four years. I know she's not a problem child."

Ms. Lane, the art teacher, said that when Heritage High first
learned that immigration agents had picked up the girl, one
of her best friends asked if someone from the school might
have denounced her as an illegal immigrant. "I remember
telling her the government doesn't go after 16-year-old
girls," Ms. Lane said. "And in the last few days, I'm
wrestling with the fact that, yes, it does."

� Copyright 2005 New York Times Company


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