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Food Fighter?

Alleged past haunts would-be caterer at Maryland Governor's Mansion

Van Smith
O's Place in Owings Mills, owned by the catering company that employed Mohammad Ashfaq.
Www.Jamaat.Org
Jamiat-e-Islami's flag.

By Van Smith | Posted 10/7/2009

"He's not a criminal," Shazia Maqbool says of her husband, Mohammad Ashfaq, after she opens her apartment door to a reporter on Sept 30. On Sept. 4, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents made a pre-dawn raid of the family's Windsor Mill apartment and detained her husband. "They came here at 5:30 in the morning and found nothing, because there's nothing here to find," she says. "He's a good man. He's done nothing wrong."

Ashfaq is in hot water, though. According to federal authorities, he has said in the past that he's trained under and fought for an "anti-American" group in Pakistan. At the very least, he's accused of being an illegal alien.

A spokeswoman for ICE, Gillian Brigham, confirmed that Ashfaq "is currently in ICE custody awaiting a hearing on his immigration status," scheduled for Oct. 8 at the U.S. Immigration Court in Baltimore. According to the search-warrant application for the raid on Ashfaq's home, he's suspected of violating Title 8, Section 1325 (a) of the United States Code, which prohibits improper entry into the United States by an alien.

What touched off the raid, according to the search warrant written by ICE special agent Kelly Baird, was Ashfaq's application for a "temporary state-level security clearance to work as a food vendor at the Maryland Governors Mansion in Annapolis, Maryland, for an event planned on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2009." Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's spokesman, Rick Abbruzzese, says the event that day was the governor's annual reception for members of Maryland's Muslim community, in celebration of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The caterer for the reception was Ashfaq's employer, Halal Chinese Food Inc., doing business as O's Place, which runs a restaurant at the Owings Mills Mall.

"He applied to be a caterer of some sort," Abbruzzese continues, "and he went through the same security clearance that any vendor would do, and it came up that he had an arrest on the Canadian border, so the Maryland State Police contacted immigration officials, and they took it from there."

The search-warrant application reflects that Maryland State Police corporal James Mastronadri called ICE on Aug. 24 regarding Ashfaq's application. "ICE had previously attempted to locate Ashfaq in April 2009 at the request of the National Security Law Division (NSLD) of ICE Headquarters," the warrant states. "Prior to August 24, 2009, his whereabouts had been unknown to ICE for the previous five years." The NSLD, according to a report by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission), was created to deal with immigration cases against suspected terrorists.

The NSLD's interest in Ashfaq, according to Baird's warrant, apparently arose from paperwork he filed in applying for asylum in Canada in 1999. The warrant explains that Ashfaq wrote in his application that he "volunteered for the 'Jamiat-e-Islami' in Pakistan in approximately 1996," and relates the details Ashfaq provided to the Canadian authorities.

The rhetoric of Jamiat-e-Islami, a political party in Pakistan, is fiercely anti-Western (and anti-Israel) and has been supportive of both al-Qaida and the Taliban while seeking to promote fundamentalist Islam in Pakistan's political and government life.

Ashfaq "reported that in June 1996, he was issued a number and was placed on a bus with '62' other subjects and transported to a place where he trained for four and a half months in weapons, 'fieldcraft,' 'raid,' and ambush techniques," the warrant says. It continues:

According to the warrant, the Canadian government denied Ashfaq's application and issued an arrest warrant and removal order for him, dated June 21, 1999.

Today, Ashfaq is represented by immigration attorney Ken Nielsen, whose paralegal, Mohammad Khan, says that, according to Ashfaq, his attorney in Canada "made up a story for him to file for asylum--the story was fabricated. He was never involved in any of those activities" described in the warrant.

Nonetheless, Khan acknowledges that Ashfaq's "asylum story is not very good. The government is now relating him to a terrorist organization in Pakistan. But he's been living a decent life, though he's been living here as an illegal alien, and, obviously, he is kind of wanted--though he has not been charged yet with anything, he's just an illegal immigrant with a hearing coming up."

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