Akayed Ullah’s father freedom fighter Sanaullah Miah died of cancer in New York. He started exhibiting and increased interest in religion after that.
He told his family members to offer prayers regularly and put pressure on them to follow Salafism, an ultra-conservative branch within Sunni Islam.
His relatives in Bangladesh and acquaintances say Akayed never showed interest in extremism or religion before migrating to the US. This changed after moving there, particularly following his father’s death.
Akayed’s family members did not realize his change. His alleged suicide bombing attempt at Manhattan's Port Authority Bus Terminal on Monday left his family flabbergasted.
The incident has also caused uneasiness among the Bangladeshi community, who fear they will face problems with immigration.
New York Police Department said Akayed had strapped a bomb to his body and tried to blow himself up. Four people, including Akayed, were injured but all of them are out of danger.
Police said the 27-year-old carried out the attack inspired by the Islamic State. He has been charged with criminal possession of a weapon, supporting act of terrorism and “making terroristic threat.”
It is unclear how he got involved in terrorism. Bangladesh police and his relatives said he had shown no sign of being interested in extremism before shifting to US with his family in 2011.
Things started to change after his father’s death a year later.
Dhaka police’s counter terrorism unit started collecting information about him after Monday’s bombing.
Akayed was born in Chittagong’s Sandwip and was raised in Dhaka’s Hazaribagh. Five years after leaving the country, he came back in January last year and married Jannatul Ferdous Jui, his younger sister’s friend.
He visited Bangladesh twice after that. He came to Dhaka in September last year and left in January this year. The last visit was from September 8 to October 22.
The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit has interrogated Akayed’s wife, father-in-law Zulfiqar Haider and mother-in-law Mahfuza Akter on Tuesday.
“We did not get any information to indicate that he was radicalized in Bangladesh,” CTTC’s Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police Mohammad Saiful Islam said. “We assume that he became radicalized in New York. We are trying to learn more.”
After the blast, the US State Department contacted Bangladesh to know about Akayed. The Foreign Ministry has informed Washington that he was a “home-grown US terrorist.”
Police chief AKM Shahidul Hoque has said that the man had no previous criminal record in Bangladesh.
A police officer said the FBI contacted them to get information about the suspected bomber.
Counter terrorism unit officers, who interrogated Jui and her parents, said he had forced his wife to offer prayers regularly after marriage and directed her to wear hijab. The family members thought they were simply following religious customs.
Another CTTC official said Akayed had performed Umrah in 2013 with his family. They came to Bangladesh from there. Since then, the family members were seen following Salafism.
Most of the terrorist organizations follow the ultra-conservative branch within Sunni Islam.
Akayed’s brother-in-law Hafiz Mahmud Joy, 20, said Akayed did not have any beard during the time of the marriage. “I have seen him offering regular prayers since his marriage. He was the same when he visited the last time,” Joy said.
He said his brother-in-law did not go out much and encouraged others to offer prayers.
Akayed’s sister Helen and wife Jui studied together at school and college.
One of their close friends, who declined to be named, described Akayed as a “very gentle and well mannered” boy.
“I visited their Dhaka residence many times. I also met him when he visited Dhaka after going to the US. There was no indication that he had been radicalized,” she said.
“He seemed normal like other boys. I respected him like my own brother,” she added. “I cannot believe that he could do something like this.”
Jui told CTTC officials that she used to call her husband every morning to wake him up before Fajr prayers. He used to go out for work after the morning prayers. She said she had called him on Monday morning too.
The couple had a little chat during which Akayed enquired about her and their child,before ending the call saying he needed to go to work.
Jui said Akayed became anti-American over the course of his stay in the US. He used to talk to her about the oppression and torture of Muslims in Iraq and Syria and asked her to listen to lectures of Islamic scholars. He also sent her links to these lectures.
She said she could not imagine that her husband was planning to carry out a suicide attack after being influenced by radicalism.
Akayed had reportedly posted a warning to President Donald Trump just before the attack, the BBC reported. "Trump you failed to protect your nation," the post, revealed in charges filed by federal prosecutors on Tuesday, read.
CTTC officials said Akayed passed his Secondary School Certificate examination from Dhanmondi’s Kakoli High School and took part in the Higher Secondary Certificate from Bangladesh Rifles school.
He started studying BBA at Dhaka City College but left for US when he was in the third year.
One of his uncles has been living in the US for years. He first took Akayed’s elder brother Ahsan Ullah to America where the latter studied engineering and then joined a company.
In 2011, Ahsan took his parents, brothers and sisters to US. Officials say Ahsan started an electronic company where Akayed had started working earlier this year.
Jui said Akayed initially took up taxi driving as profession and then worked at the shop of an expatriate Bangali.
Although he discontinued his studies after moving to the US, Akayed did a course on English language, she told CTTC officials.
This article was first published on Bangla Tribune