DHAKA — A young Bangladeshi man accused of plotting to blow up the New York Federal Reserve is a bank manager's son who dropped out of the country's most liberal university before moving to the United States.
Authorities in New York allege Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis travelled to the US with "the purpose of conducting a terrorist attack" and sought out Al-Qaeda contacts after his arrival.
But the family of the 21-year-old insist he had never displayed any radical tendencies but was rather a devout Muslim whose arrest had come as a deep shock.
"We're stunned. Nafis is not a radical type. He says prayers five times a day, and reads the holy Koran and Hadith every day. I have never seen him reading any books on jihad," his father Quazi Mohammad Ahsanullah told AFP on Thursday.
"We don't believe that he can have committed this... He is our pride and joy."
Nafis's extended family lives in North Jatrabari, an upper middle-class neighbourhood of southeastern Dhaka. His father is a vice president of National Bank and his sister is a doctor.
Speaking to AFP from the family home, Nafis's brother-in-law Tawfiq Alam Siddiqui, also known as Arik, said they had spoken to him only hours before his arrest and even discussed a possible bride for him.
"We heard the news this morning. Everyone is crying here," said Siddiqui. "Nafis never showed any form of radicalisation when he was in Bangladesh."
Mokhlesur Rahman, head of Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion, a security branch tasked with tackling Islamic militancy, said Nafis had never come to the attention of the intelligence services.
"Nafis is not on our list" of Islamic militants who operated in the country, he told AFP. "We are still trying to get more information."
Nafis had been an unexceptional high school student but managed to get a place as an undergraduate at the private North South University, known as the country's most liberal centre of learning as well as its most expensive.
Bangladesh is an overwhelmingly Muslim and conservative country, but North South stands out as a place where male and female students can mingle freely on campus, often dressed in designer Western clothing.
University officials said Nafis had struggled during his eight semesters as an electrical engineering and telecommunications student and had been effectively forced to leave after poor exam results.
"He obtained one of the lowest exam point scores in December last year. He had already been under probation for three semesters," said Belal Ahmed, a spokesman at the university.
He then moved to the United States where he initially took up a place at Missouri Southern State University.
"We were afraid that he would be spoiled after going to America, but he told us that he remained a devout Muslim," said Ahsanullah.
"He completed only one semester at Missouri Southern University. But it was too costly. He went to New York and then took a job at a hotel."
An AFP correspondent at the family home saw Nafis's mother Rokeya Siddiqui sobbing uncontrollably although she did manage to say she did not believe the accusations.
Nafis's uncle Abul Bashar said his nephew may have been set up.
"I think this a drama staged by the FBI... He is the type who could fall into a trap quite easily," Bashar said.
"If he is found guilty, he should be punished, but if he is innocent, we want justice. This is about the image of our family, our country."
Nafis has allegedly written a statement claiming responsibility for his planned attack in which he said he wanted to "destroy America" and referred to slain Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden as "beloved".
But according to his father, Nafis's main concern was trying to scrape together a living to afford to pay for a computer science course and for the rent on a property he was sharing with a relative in the Queens district.
"He used to work 10 hours a day at the hotel," said Ahsanullah.
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