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No Easy Answers

New book looks at Ohio-based, post-9/11 security issues

By Jane Durrell · September 7th, 2011 · Lit
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By the summer of 2007, Columbus-based AP reporter Andrew Welsh-Huggins recognized that an ongoing story he’d been covering put Ohio at the center of events making important national news. 

“All this information was swirling around: Christopher Paul was indicted, the coffee-shop meetings were coming out,” Welsh-Huggins says in a recent phone interview. 

At that time, Welsh-Huggins recognized the need for a book about what was going on in Ohio. Hatred at Home: Al-Qaida on Trial in the American Midwest, published by Swallow Press at Ohio University, appears just as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches. It records one segment of events stemming from that fateful day.

In Columbus, in the years following 9/11, U.S. authorities were closely monitoring three men who had links to terrorist activities. One, Christopher Paul,  an African American who changed his name in dizzying fashion, grew up in Columbus and did well in school as Paul Law. He also had a passport as Abdulmalek Kenyatta. 

Iyman Feris was a long-distance trucker who had recently spent a year in Pakistan, where he wore his Western-style ponytail tucked into a turban. Nuradin Mahamoud Abdi ran a cell-phone store in a small mall catering to Columbus’ large Somali population, of which he was one.

He had a wife and two small children.

Abdi would spend time in the Kenton County Detention Center in Covington, headquarters for the FBI’s southern Ohio division. Troublesome aspects of his apprehension include his being held without a warrant and being denied a lawyer for more than a week. The case against him rested partially on conversations between him and the other two accused men in a Columbus coffee shop.

Feris, Pakistani-born but now a U.S. citizen, is perhaps the most colorful of the three. He had designs on blowing up the Brooklyn Bridge, which proved harder than expected. Feris is now in Florence, Colo., in what Welsh-Huggins calls “the nation’s most secure federal prison” but “his name pops up frequently following new terrorist indictments.” 

Some commentators cite him as an example of government overreaching (the Brooklyn Bridge project was unworkable), and others point out his story “as an instance of government success in thwarting a serious threat,” Welsh-Huggins says.

Abdi, the cell-phone store keeper, is in federal prison in Marion, Ill., but on release next year “will make a forced return to his homeland” by government order. The government’s case against Abdi was the least damning of the three; he eventually pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. 

Among the things Welsh-Huggins’ book takes note of are the sometimes questionable activities of informants, who might make things happen to have something to report. The author, noting Ohio as political bellwether and Cincinnati as the place George W. Bush chose for two important speeches (the case for the war in Iraq and for renewal of the Patriot Act), adds terrorist suppression to the list. “As the war on terror at home goes, so goes Ohio,” he writes.

The book’s title is meant “to get across the sense of the heartland and a small minority harboring anger,” Welsh-Huggins says. His book provides no easy answers but does raise serious questions with repercussions far beyond Ohio. Rights and freedom, the hallmarks of American life, are among the elements at risk when fighting terrorists, who themselves are out to nullify them. 

“Overzealous prosecutions were inevitable; less rigorous pursuits, out of the question,” Welsh-Huggins writes. 

His book raises questions in the context of actual people whose lives have been lived not many miles from us in Cincinnati. ©

 
 
 
 

 

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