Bangladeshi seeks vindication over al-Qaeda link accusation

by Tomoko Otake

A Bangladeshi man held by police for alleged connections with al-Qaeda but later released with no charges filed against him made a tearful plea Tuesday for vindication.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, Islam Mohamed Himu said his 43-day detention by police through July 7, along with the media branding him as an al-Qaeda member during and after this period, has deeply hurt him, his family and relatives the world over.

It has also destroyed his prepaid telephone card business, and he is now facing extreme difficulty getting his life back in order, he said.

“The media didn’t show any enthusiasm” to correct earlier mistakes of reporting him as an al-Qaeda member after he was exonerated, he said. “When I go to a convenience store here in Japan, people look at me differently,” he said. “I’m still nothing but an al-Qaeda member to them.”

Himu, a 33-year-old Bangladeshi national with a Japanese wife and two children, was arrested May 26 over allegations he made a false entry in his company registration documents.

But in reality, investigators questioned him only on his possible links to Lionel Dumont, a Frenchman with suspected connections with the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Himu was released without charge June 16. He was immediately held and detained again over another charge of hiring two undocumented foreigners. He was then released July 7 after paying a 300,000 yen fine.

Himu said he only knew of Dumont as “Samir,” as he was called by others in the Muslim community, and had business dealings with him only on three occasions, including the sale of 50 prepaid telephone cards usable in Russia for 33,800 yen, and the purchase of a 30,000 yen digital camera from him.

He was interviewed by two Japanese TV stations before his arrest, and his name and face were televised and reported worldwide. The negative and erroneous image has yet to be rectified, he said.

Himu’s company was forced to stop operations three days after his arrest, as phone cards were invalidated and consumer complaints surged.

He has had trouble withdrawing money from banks and is currently unable to make international remittances through his own bank accounts. Many of his clients have declined future business with him, too, he said.

“I’m not al-Qaeda,” he repeated, often fighting back tears. “I’m not al-Qaeda. Everyone thinks I am . . . I want to clear my name and my country name. We are not al-Qaeda.”