Terror suspect showed no hint of plot in time at Southeast

Friday, October 19, 2012
This image taken from the social networking site Google Plus shows an undated photo of Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis - the same man, who according to witnesses, appeared in federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 to face charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida. The Bangladeshi man was arrested Wednesday after he allegedly attempted to detonate what he believed to be a 1,000-pound bomb outside the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. (AP Photo)

* Click here to watch video of SEMO President Ken Dobbins' news conference

* Click here to download the criminal complaint against Nasif

Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis was shy and quiet, said one person who shared the faith. He had no car, so sometimes he would make small talk with those offering rides to his apartment on Pacific Street. Former classmates found him likable enough, with one recalling Nafis making several comments that true Muslims don't like violence.

That's why the allegations Wednesday were so shocking, according to those who got to know Nafis during his brief stint at Southeast Missouri State University. Several said they still were trying to make sense of the news on Thursday, a day after Nafis' arrest on charges of an alleged terrorist plot involving the bombing of a New York government building.

"There was not one thing that I saw -- nothing -- that would make me suspect him," said Shafiq Malik, a native of Pakistan who got to know Nafis at the Islamic Center of Cape Girardeau. "I don't know why he would do something like that. I can't see it. But if he did the things they are saying, he does not deserve our sympathy."

While area Muslims and others were expressing similar frustrations throughout the day, Southeast officials were answering questions about Nafis' one semester on campus while trying to reassure the university's 830 international students that the campus is safe. They also reported that Southeast had simply served as an "entry point" for Nafis to get into the United States.

University president Ken Dobbins distributed a letter to the campus community's 11,000 students on Thursday and met with the international students during a private meeting at the University Center. In between, he spoke to reporters at a news conference at which he said he was "dismayed and concerned" that a former student would be involved in an alleged act of terrorism.

"We will do everything in our power to make sure the actions of one misguided student does not adversely affect the education and security of our international students and our more than 11,000 enrolled students," Dobbins said.

Security policies put in place by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI worked, Dobbins said. It is important to note, he said, that Nafis never posed a real threat, as he was charged in an FBI sting that involved inactive explosives and undercover agents posing as al-Qaida operatives.

While the reason Nafis chose Southeast was unclear, Dobbins said the student could have chosen any number of colleges or universities to gain access to the U.S. Nafis also had to go through the same procedure as the university's other international students, Dobbins said, as well as the U.S.'s more than 720,000 international students. That process is guided by rules and regulations of the government's Student and Exchange Visitor Program administered by Homeland Security.

Several times throughout the day, Dobbins insisted the campus is safe and students never were in any real danger. Dobbins met with FBI agents Thursday morning, he said, and was assured that Southeast was never a target of terrorism.

"The campus community can rest assured that all possible safety procedures have been, and are continuing to be, followed," he said.

All of the university's admissions protocols were followed as well, Dobbins said, although he did attempt to answer questions about how Nafis had been accepted to Southeast, despite reports that he had been a "terrible student" at a private college before his visit to the U.S. Nafis actually was placed on academic probation before he attended any of the four classes he signed up to take, Dobbins said. After he received subpar grades at semester's end, he was sent a letter that he would not be eligible to re-enroll the following fall.

Nafis submitted an application to Southeast in September 2011 to attend the university this spring, Dobbins said. On his official application to the university, Nafis indicated only that he had attended a secondary school in Bangladesh. No information was provided, Dobbins said, about any previous attendance at a college or university.

Nafis was evaluated based on the results of national exam scores from his secondary school, which is part of the university's admissions policy and procedures, Dobbins said. Those scores were well above scores recommended for admissions from secondary schools in Bangladesh. Nafis, whom Dobbins only referred to as "the student," was accepted in October 2011 and he arrived in the U.S. on Jan. 9.

When Nafis met with Southeast advisers, he presented a college transcript from North South University in Bangladesh and requested credit transfers. Those advisers, Dobbins said, told Nafis that he should have presented those credits -- reflecting poor grades -- along with his application. Those grades placed Nasif on academic probation from the outset.

Nafis was enrolled in 12 credit hours, all prerequisite courses for a major in cybersecurity. But Dobbins stressed that he was never enrolled in any of those courses. Dobbins met with each of Nafis' professors and was told that Nafis did attend classes, although he was frequently absent.

After the semester, Nafis asked the university to transfer his records to a university in Brooklyn, N.Y. Southeast complied with his request and followed the requirement of notifying Homeland Security, Dobbins said, through the Student and Visitor Information System.

While here, Nafis prayed regularly at the Islamic Center, even helping with its food program, packing and helping deliver meals. On campus, he was involved with the Muslim Student Association, where he rose to the position of vice president, according to faculty adviser Tahsin Khalid.

Khalid also remembers Nafis as quiet. He gave him a ride a few times from the center to his house. When he heard the news that a former Southeast student was involved in a terror plot, he hoped he had not known him.

"I have no idea what he was thinking," Khalid said. "I would like to know why he got crazy. But what he did had nothing to do with being a Muslim. It was just his attempt to try to justify what he did."

Jim Dow, a 54-year-old Army veteran who rode with Nafis home from class twice a week, also was caught off guard when he received word.

"I can't imagine being more shocked about somebody doing something like this," Dow said. "I just didn't meet this kid a couple of times. We talked quite a bit."

Dow recalls Nafis once spoke admiringly of Osama bin Laden. At the same time, Dow said, "he told me he didn't really believe bin Laden was involved in the twin towers because he said bin Laden was a religious man, and a religious man wouldn't have done something like that."

Added Dow: "What really shocked me the most was he had specifically spoken to me about true Muslims not believing in violence."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

smoyers@semissourian.com

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