Mark Collins – NJ/NY Bombings: How a Young Afghan-American Turned to Jihad

Ahmad Rahami’s sad story of a terrible inability to reconcile a clash of cultures–excellent in-depth reporting at the NY Times:

Journey From Class Clown to Suspect in Chelsea Bombing

If there was one child Mohammad Rahami had to worry about bringing shame upon the family, it was Ahmad. In the fifth grade, his teacher complained to Mr. Rahami that Ahmad acted like a king in class. In junior high, he broke a friend’s nose. Even worse was high school — after Mr. Rahami arranged for Ahmad to marry a good Afghan girl from Kabul, Ahmad dated a Dominican girl, getting her pregnant in his senior year.

The shame. They had falling-outs, so many of them. In the beginning, because Ahmad was just becoming too American for his conservative Afghan parents, who had moved to New Jersey after Mr. Rahami fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets as part of the mujahedeen in the 1980s. And then, in the last few years, they fell out over much darker fears. Ahmad spent hours watching videos on the internet espousing violent jihad, embracing some of the most prominent purveyors of that message: Bin Laden, Awlaki, Adnani, the men who in that world needed no first names. Mr. Rahami said he asked Ahmad to stop.

“This is wrong,” Mr. Rahami recalled telling his son, one of eight children. “You don’t know if they are real Muslims. You shouldn’t watch them. You have nothing to do with them.”

But nothing stopped Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, who now stands accused of bombings in New York and New Jersey and a string of other attempts

pool.jpg
Ahmad Rahami in high school. He is seen third from left, with Maria Mena hugging him from behind…

[In high school] Maria Mena, whose family was from the Dominican Republic, became Ahmad’s sweetheart. A photograph shows the couple in a swimming pool, with another couple and three friends, a diverse group, Maria smiling broadly and hugging Ahmad from behind. Mr. Rahami was furious at the relationship. The family had arranged for Ahmad to marry a woman in Afghanistan. He told his son that he could not have a girlfriend while he was engaged to someone else.

No surprise, but Ahmad did what he wanted. By senior year, Maria was pregnant. The teenagers were excited, holding hands in the hallways, grinning and touching each other. In a prom picture, Maria is pregnant, wearing a shy smile and a white dress. Ahmad seems happy, too, wearing a shiny pink vest and a matching tie over a white shirt.

His father had had enough. One day, Ahmad came to school upset, Ms. Podhradsky said. His parents were forcing him to move back to Afghanistan after graduation.

In early July 2007, just after Ahmad graduated, he was put on a plane — to Pakistan, it turned out — leaving behind his girlfriend, who would give birth to their daughter without him…

Please read it all.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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