[Pnews] Living in the Shadow of Counterterrorism: Meet the Muslim Women Taking on the National Security State

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 12 10:59:21 EDT 2016


  Living in the Shadow of Counterterrorism: Meet the Muslim Women Taking
  on the National Security State - Rewire

May 11, 2016 Kanya D’Almeida <http://rewire.news/author/kanya-dalmeida/>

For the past 15 years, stories of Muslim Americans arrested on terrorism 
charges have been splashed across newspapers 
and television screens.

Less visible, and largely hidden behind the headlines, are the families 
of the accused. Numbering in the hundreds, these families are living 
under a dark shadow, often in obscurity and sometimes in poverty, 
following trials and convictions that brand them and their relations as 

They say the label is heavy with stigma, almost impossible to shake.

For well over a decade they’ve been challenging discriminatory policing 
<http://www.ap.org/Index/AP-In-The-News/NYPD>, unfair trials, and 
draconian sentencing 
of Muslims charged under terrorism laws passed in the aftermath of 9/11. 
A once-scattered population of fractured families and organizations 
working on their behalf has coalesced into a movement, in which 
activists, lawyers, and scholars are all standing shoulder to shoulder 
with impacted families under the banner No Separate Justice 
<http://no-separate-justice.org/> (NSJ).

The movement’s leaders, by and large, are Muslim women.

One of them is Zurata Duka, an ethnic Albanian immigrant from Macedonia 
whose sons Dritan, Shain, and Eljvir were arrested in 2007 on conspiracy 
charges. Zurata lives in a quiet suburban neighborhood in New Jersey 
with her husband, surrounded by their grandchildren. But her charming 
home and easy smile belie the fallout from her sons’ arrest, which laid 
waste to their dream of putting out roots and building a sturdy future 
for themselves in America.

The Duka brothers now count among hundreds of people, primarily Muslims, 
prosecuted for terrorist activity since September 11, 2001. The precise 
number is difficult to ascertain, but a 2014 Human Rights Watch (HRW) 
estimated that in the decade between 2001 and 2011, the federal 
government convicted approximately 500 individuals of terrorism, 
amounting to about 40 per year.

Informants, paid and unpaid, played a critical role in at least half of 
these cases, the report found. High-ranking government officials like 
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) also used these cases for their own 
political gain, according to reports 
Often, allegations of terrorism have prompted the arrests of Muslim 
Americans like the Duka brothers, based on wholly fabricated 
plots, trumped up by federal authorities eager to show they are 
combating “homegrown terrorism.”

For the Duka family and many others, the HRW report only echoed what 
they’d known for years: that the FBI’s post-9/11 counterterrorism 
machine has slowly eaten away at Muslim Americans’ civil liberties and 
constitutional protections.

According to organizers with NSJ, this erosion amounts to what is 
essentially a separate justice system for Muslim Americans, one that 
runs parallel to the protections enshrined in the Constitution, and one 
that appears to equate adherence to the Islamic faith with a propensity 
toward violence.

In a three-part series, /Rewire /will share some of their stories and 
explore how multiple intersecting issues converge around allegations of 
terrorism in post-9/11 America.

*An Accidental Advocate*

Zurata Duka arrived in the United States in 1984 with her husband Firik 
and their three sons.

They moved around, living first in Texas and then in New York City, 
where the family added two members, a daughter named Naze and a fourth 
son, Burim. Eventually they bought a house in a mixed-ethnic, suburban 
neighborhood in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, which Zurata and Firik believed 
was a safer choice for their kids than Brooklyn, where they often came 
home bloodied or bruised from fights with other boys, according to the 

They did well, establishing two successful roofing businesses, which 
counted department stores, schools, and even the local fire department 
among their clients. To all who knew them, they were the veritable 
poster family for the American dream: self-made, hardworking, prosperous.

All that changed on May 7, 2007—Zurata Duka’s 49th birthday—when a team 
of armed FBI agents burst into her home screaming at her to get down on 
the ground.

She conjures up the incident like it was yesterday: “I was washing the 
dishes,” she tells /Rewire/ in an interview in her home, “when I heard 
this sound like a bomb. I grabbed a chair because I saw people running 
in, and got behind the refrigerator. People were yelling at me to put 
the chair down, and then I felt a gun in my stomach.”

She recalls begging to be allowed to put on her head cover, and 
requesting a female agent to handcuff her. For hours she sat in the 
kitchen while the team ransacked her house. One agent seemed 
particularly agitated, she says, running up and down the stairs and 
asking repeatedly about her sons’ whereabouts.

Zurata says the years following her sons’ arrest have been a blur of 
caring for her grandkids and fretting over bills. The family’s roofing 
businesses, which once enjoyed six-figure earnings, have fallen on hard 
times, with only her youngest son Burim and her husband (who is pushing 
70) to run them. An increasingly tight household budget also means that 
visits with her sons, who are flung across the country in various 
federal detention centers—Dritan in West Virginia, Shain in Kentucky, 
and Eljvir in a maximum-security prison in Colorado—are nearly impossible.

Zurata is also an advocate—though she never uses that word. Over the 
past eight years she has cultivated a close circle of allies who raise 
awareness and organize around her sons’ case. She herself has traveled 
the country speaking publicly on their behalf, often with her oldest 
grandchild in tow 

***A “Separate” Justice System for Muslim Americans*

The No Separate Justice movement began in 2009 as a campaign around a 
Pakistani-American student named Fahad Hashmi 
<http://no-separate-justice.org/cases/fahad-hashmi/>, who at the time 
was being held in pretrial solitary confinement on terrorism-related 
charges. Over time, it formed a kind of umbrella over various groups and 
families who were challenging post-9/11 human rights abuses.

These included organizations working against police surveillance, like 
the City University of New York’s Creating Law Enforcement 
Accountability & Responsibility 
project; Palestinian rights’ groups like Al-Awda NY 
<http://al-awdany.org/about-al-awda/>; the direct-action collective 
Witness Against Torture, whose aim is to shut down the U.S. military 
prison in Guantanamo; Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), an organization 
of South Asian workers and youth; and nonprofits like the Center for 
Constitutional Rights (CCR).

Among them these groups’ members have decades of experience organizing 
around civil liberties, but the movement’s most active participants are 
women like Zurata Duka, many of whom had never known a day’s activism 
until the state snatched away their kin.

The FBI first learned of the Dukas in 2006 when an employee at a Circuit 
City in Cherry Hill turned over tapes of what appeared to be Muslim men 
shooting guns in the woods while saying “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God 
is Greatest.” The Dukas themselves had recorded that footage while on a 
family vacation in the Pocono Mountains, where they’d also ridden horses 
and gone skiing. What had started out as a weekend of winter sports 
turned into a lengthy FBI investigation: Over a period of several 
months, the bureau went to great lengths to involve the men in a plot 
to attack the Fort Dix military base in New Jersey, enlisting two 
informants to secure recordings of the brothers’ support for the scheme.

As the /Intercept/ detailed in a January 2015 piece titled “Christie’s 
how Chris Christie, then the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, rose to 
prominence in the wake of Zurata’s sons’ arrest and subsequent trial—the 
informants never approached the Duka brothers directly about this plan, 
instead attempting to incite vague verbal commitments to acts of 
violence by showing them jihadi videos and playing tapes of lectures by 
radical Islamic scholars. Court transcripts and video recordings 
have shown that all three men explicitly rejected the idea of engaging 
in violence, repeatedly telling one informant, Besnik Bakalli, that 
“jihad” for them meant working hard to support their families, or 
fighting personal vices like greed and lust.

It is clear from the criminal complaint that the only link between the 
Duka brothers and the Fort Dix plot was a series of statements that 
Eljvir’s brother-in-law, Mohamad Shnewer, made to another paid FBI 
informant, Mahmoud Omar, in which he falsely claimed that the Dukas had 
agreed to the plan. These claims were subsequently disproved in court, 
according to the /Intercept/, when Omar admitted during 
cross-examination that the Duka brothers had no idea about the alleged 
plot to kill military personnel at the Navy base.

Though the prosecution was unable to provide proof of a formal 
agreement—written, oral, or otherwise—that showed the Duka brothers had 
entered into a conspiracy to attack the military base, the jury 
delivered a guilty verdict. Both Dritan and Shain received life 
sentences plus 30 years. Eljvir was sentenced to life without parole.

In January, they presented a motion for retrial 
based on ineffective counsel before New Jersey District Judge Robert B. 
Kugler, the same man who presided over the original trial and sentenced 
the brothers back in 2009. The case is still pending.

As the HRW report 
makes clear, the Duka brothers’ story is not an anomaly. By analyzing 
the U.S. Department of Justice’s public records, as well as data secured 
through Freedom of Information Act requests, HRW concluded:

    All of the high-profile domestic terrorism plots of the last decade,
    with four exceptions, were actually FBI sting operations—plots
    conducted with the direct involvement of law enforcement informants
    or agents, including plots that were proposed or led by informants.
    According to multiple studies, nearly 50 percent of the more than
    500 federal counterterrorism convictions resulted from
    informant-based cases; almost 30 percent of those cases were sting
    operations in which the informant played an active role in the
    underlying plot.

In some cases, the report found, the FBI “may have created terrorists 
out of law-abiding individuals by conducting sting operations that 
facilitated or invented the target’s willingness to act.”

Sting operations are the cornerstone of a legal strategy that groups 
like the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF) have 
termed “preemptive prosecution,” which essentially licenses the 
government to charge and incarcerate Muslims who have never committed a 
crime on the basis that their very thoughts pose a threat to national 

Preemptive prosecutions have given rise to a troubling pattern of 
innocent persons being incarcerated and families being separated, often 
in cases manufactured entirely by the government. Experts on “homegrown 
terrorism” say the alleged fear driving the counterterrorism machine is 
exaggerated. According to Peter Bergen, author of the /United States of 
Jihad/, the risk of “homegrown terrorism” is actually a lower-level 
than the dangers of gun violence or climate change.

In the years after September 11, the /New York Times /reported Bergen as 
saying, “an American residing in the United States was around/five 
thousand/ times more likely to be killed by a fellow citizen armed with 
a gun than by a terrorist inspired by the ideology of Osama bin Laden.”

As the NCPCF documented in a 2014 report 
<http://www.projectsalam.org/Inventing-Terrorists-study.pdf>, preemptive 
prosecutions often involve material support 
<https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2339A> charges, which allow 
the government to interpret free speech or charitable giving as 
“support” for international terrorist organizations; the use of 
conspiracy laws to treat relationships and associations as criminal 
enterprises, and their members as guilty by association; and the use of 
confidential informants to ensnare individuals in criminal plots 
fabricated by the government.

NCPCF Legal Director Kathy Manley told /Rewire /in a phone interview 
that of an estimated 399 terrorism cases 
<http://www.projectsalam.org/Inventing-Terrorists-study.pdf> between 
2001 and 2010, approximately 94.2 percent were preemptive prosecutions, 
or included elements of that strategy.

By analyzing a list of the Department of Justice National Security 
Division’s unsealed terrorism cases 
NCPCF researchers concluded that 72.4 percent of convictions between 
2001 and 2010 were based on suspicion of the defendant’s “perceived 
ideology,” rather than criminal behavior, while a further 21.8 percent 
of cases represented individuals whose non-terrorist criminal activity 
was “manipulated and inflated by the government to appear as though they 
were terrorists,” according to the report.

Families like the Dukas say the legal terminology doesn’t come close to 
capturing the chilling reality that lurks beneath it: that the federal 
government is willing to tear asunder scores of Muslim-American 
families—whose members may have done nothing more than fire guns at a 
shooting range while evoking God’s name—under the guise of fighting the 
elusive threat of “homegrown terrorism.”

NCPCF is now in the process of filing commutation petitions 
for executive clemency 
behalf of ten victims of preemptive prosecution. One of these petitions, 
Manley told /Rewire/, involves a man named Shahawar Matin Siraj who was 
convicted in 2006 on terrorism conspiracy charges and sentenced to 30 
years in prison.

Matin’s story represents a classic case of preemptive prosecution and 
illustrates how this legal strategy affects entire families.

*Turning Mothers Into Advocates*

Shahina Parveen lives with her husband, Siraj Abdul Rehman, and their 
daughter, Sanya Siraj, in Jackson Heights, a bustling immigrant quarter 
of Queens, New York. Anyone who has visited them knows the apartment is 
not so much a home as it is a workspace dedicated to exposing the truth 
behind the case that changed their lives a decade ago.

“You see all this?” Parveen asks, pointing to a stack of books and 
papers stashed in a corner of the one-bedroom apartment. “This is my 
office. I have read 4,000 pages about my son’s case. It’s all lies.”

She tells /Rewire/ that when she moved her family from Pakistan to the 
United States in 1999, escaping daily violence in her native city of 
Karachi, she couldn’t read or speak much English. But when the NYPD sent 
an informant after her son in 2003 and then arrested him for allegedly 
plotting to blow up a train station in Manhattan in 2004, she forced 
herself to learn so she could understand how Matin—who had always seemed 
“more interested in video games than in religion”—had been labeled a 

Through reading court transcripts and watching C-SPAN, she learned the 
details of how an Egyptian-American NYPD informant named Osama Eldawoody 
befriended her son by posing as a terminally ill man with a deep 
knowledge of Islam. Over several months, Eldawoody exposed Matin to the 
results of the United States’ military exploits overseas, showing him 
photographs of abused Muslim prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison complex 
in Iraq and eventually suggesting that they detonate a bomb at the 34th 
Street station.

Though Matin refused to plant the bomb in the subway, Eldawoody 
pressured him into acting as a lookout for the operation, she says. 
According to a report 
by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York 
University School of Law, Matin appeared to grow more and more reluctant 
with the plan, at one point telling the informant he needed to “ask 
permission” from his mother before going any further.

At his trial, the report states, the prosecution sidelined Matin’s 
reluctance to participate in the plot and highlighted instead what they 
called his ”predisposition” toward the crime. The predisposition 
argument makes it virtually impossible for a defendant to invoke the 
entrapment defense 
affirmative defense in cases where the government induces a particular 
crime, through an informant or other means—because the burden is on 
defendants to prove that they lacked the predisposition toward certain 
criminal conduct. In terrorism cases, disproving predisposition is a 
particularly arduous task, given the triggering effects of terrorism 
cases, which often involve, according to advocates, federal prosecutors 
inciting jurors’ emotions by presenting evidence of the human toll of 
other, unrelated terrorist attacks.

According to the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, the 
entrapment defense has yet to succeed in court.

A jury found Matin guilty and sentenced him to 30 years. He is currently 
held at the Federal Correctional Institution at Otisville in upstate New 

For Parveen, the trauma resulting from his arrest and lengthy trial has 
been constant.

“The government made us beggars,” she tells /Rewire/, explaining that 
much of the Muslim community and large swathes of her own family shunned 
them after her son’s arrest. She remembers walking the streets trying to 
solicit funds to pay legal fees; she recalls her daughter, Sanya, being 
told by prospective employers: “No one will hire the sister of a 
terrorist.” Neighbors who’d lived side by side with the family for 15 
years refused to even step inside their apartment.

“At one point, I was paralyzed from the trauma,” Sanya tells /Rewire/. 
“One half of my body just stopped working.”

One of Parveen’s clearest memories of that period is her family being 
arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials the day after 
Matin’s sentencing—possibly in connection with their pending appeal 
on a political asylum claim—and the 11 nights they spent in an immigrant 
detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

“I saw with my own eyes how human beings are treated in detention 
centers. I saw a young woman being physically separated from her newborn 
baby, and it was like watching my own son being torn away from me,” she 
explained. One day, inexplicably, immigration officials separated Sanya 
from her mother and kept them apart for two days. Parveen remembers 
spending sleepless nights in the detention center, crying, and praying, 
until suddenly something inside her snapped.

“I had been quiet for three years, from the day my son was arrested 
until he was sentenced,” she says. “And I was still being abused. I told 
myself if I am going to be abused even when I’m silent, then I might as 
well speak out about his case.”

It was the beginning of a long commitment to activism that continues to 
this day. Through DRUM, Parveen joined the No Separate Justice campaign. 
She is a powerful orator, and though she personally dislikes the 
spotlight, she has become a prominent face in the movement against 
post-9/11 civil rights violations.

She attends vigils and protests. She marches at May Day rallies, keeping 
alive the call of justice for Muslim prisoners like her son. She is 
always a phone call away, ready to answer questions about Matin’s case, 
or talk for hours into the night about his “rubbish” trial 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/09/nyregion/09plot.html>. She is quick 
to get her hands on the latest literature relating to the national 
security state: She piles books, reports, and clippings from newspapers 
onto her fragile hopes that one day her family will be vindicated.

“Before my father died, he told me that this was my job now,” 
Parveen tells /Rewire/. “He said, ‘Nobody else is going to do this for 
you—you’re the only one who can fight for your son. I pray that people 
will show up and support you, but you’re the mother and you have to 
fight, even on days when you’re fighting alone.’”

She says he died the day before his grandson, Matin, lost his appeal. It 
was almost as if he knew, Parveen says, that they stood no chance.

“But the last time I spoke to him he told me, ‘No day is the same. 
Sooner or later, the sun has to rise. You have to fight until the sun 
rises for Matin—you have to stand; don’t fall.’”

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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