Madurai: On Sunday night, Fathima received a call from a relative asking her to check a news channel that was showing a report about an arrest in France. She surfed all channels without any luck. But by next morning, there was not one news channel that did not have the news about the arrest. It was about her son, Mohammed Niaz, suspected to a terrorist, now in the custody of the anti-terrorism wing of the police in Paris.
Life as she had known it till then changed dramatically from then on.
Anxiously waiting for any information at her newly constructed house in one of the interior streets in Melur near Madurai, Fathima is yet to come out of the shock.
Even as countless reporters and cameramen knock on her doors and call on her phone, Fathima has withdrawn to the empty insides of the house, unwilling to speak to those who termed her son a terrorist without any substantiation.
There is something surreal to watch oneself in almost all the news channels, which Fathima was facing now. “Some reports say Niaz was a SIMI activist, some others say he was even part of al-Qaeda adding that he apparently went to Algeria to train terrorists. But to my knowledge, he was not part of any such organisations here or abroad, and had gone to Algeria only as part of his job. Isn’t it common sense to ask how many private companies will give such a long leave,” she asked.
The last time Fathima met her son was in January, from the 15th to the 30th, when her husband I Abdul Rashid too came from Saudi Arabia where he has been working for over past two decades.
It was a special occasion as the family was getting together after seven years. The family had a minor disagreement with Niaz for marrying France-based Habibuniza, whom he met over the internet and fell in love with. But the ice was melting as days and months passed by.
“Niaz’s father specifically asked him to come during that time as they both had not met in many years. He came with his wife, Habibuniza,” Fathima recalled fondly.
Having completed his BE in mechanical engineering at MIET Engineering College in Tiruchy, Niaz had worked in a few companies in the Middle-east — in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar — before his marriage to Habibuniza took him to France about three years ago. He has since been working as a mechanical engineer at an oil company there.
“He was religious and pious, but making him a member of banned organisations and even borderline terrorist out of that is a baseless allegation that has helped only to wreck our family. If these allegations had even an iota of truth, the intelligence officials here who were said to be on his trail during his vacation would not have let him catch the return flight,” she said.
For a person who had very little education, Fathima is surprisingly well-informed, comparing her son’s case with that of Mohammed Haneef, the Indian doctor who was arrested by the Australian police on being suspected to be a terrorist.
“If he were indeed a terrorist, I myself would have handed him over to the authorities. I am certain that he will come out clean from this harrowing time, but I do worry about his reputation even after him proving his innocence. Such a taint of terror will not be easy to wash off.”
The stigma is already evident. Many of her relatives are scared to come over or even make calls to comfort her. Not many among the neighbours want to have any connection with the family.
Fathima now has news channels for company besides one or two of her closest relatives.
Niaz wife allowed weekly visits
The French police have reportedly given access to the wife of Mohammed Niaz, one of the alleged members of a suspected terrorist ring there, to meet him once a week, according to his family members here.
According to Niaz’s mother Fathima, his wife Habibuniza was allowed to meet him on Monday, days after he was arrested by the French anti-terrorist wing police. Such visits will be permitted once a week, on Mondays.
Fathima added that Niaz has written a letter to his wife stating his innocence, and added in it that he was confident of coming clean once the investigation concludes