Farooque Ahmed: Neighbors describe the Metro plot suspect
Updated 8:30 p.m.
By Caitlin Gibson and Scott Butterworth
Farooque Ahmed, the man arrested Wednesday and charged with plotting to bomb Metro subway stations, was kindly to his next-door neighbors in the year he lived near them, but he was reserved to others, according to interviews in his Ashburn neighborhood.
Barbi Shires, whose home is next door to the brick rowhouse Ahmed and his wife rent in the Belmont Greene development, said she was stunned to learn that he was suspected by federal officials in the alleged plot.
"They were very nice. Every time we would see them, we speak," Shires said.
Their contact was mainly neighborly, she said -- they never got together socially, though she did say that Ahmed's wife brought over a traditional chicken dinner soon after they moved on.
Ahmed, 34, and his wife, Sahar Mirza-Ahmed, introduced themselves to their other next-door neighbors the same way, said Marc Otterback. He described the couple as fairly typical neighbors -- friendly enough -- with no behavior obviously out of the ordinary.
But Jay Britton, who lives across the street from Ahmed, said that he was not particularly friendly. "Definitely not social," he said.
Britton said he had run into Ahmed only a few times over the past year, and at most the two would exchange nods.
"He seemed like a loner," added Shaya Fitzgerald, Britton's next-door neighbor. She had gathered with a few other neighbors outside Britton's home to watch TV camera crews set up outside the Ahmeds' house, quite near Stone Bridge High School.
Fitzgerald said the couple have a young son.
Ahmed, who holds a B.S. in computer science from City University of New York, moved to Virginia from Staten Island, N.Y. He worked in Northern Virginia for Ericsson, a telecommunications company, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was pursuing a graduate degree online in risk management and data security at Aspen University, according to the profile.
Kathy Egan, an Ericsson spokeswoman, confirmed that Ahmed is a Reston-based contractor for the firm but declined to release any other details about his employment.
Shires recalled that Ahmed once invited her into his home after she had noticed him watching the night sky through a telescope.
"I looked at Jupiter through his telescope," Shires said, adding, "He was a very nice gentleman."
She said she thought the family had come from London. Federal officials described Ahmed as a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Pakistan. His wife, though, is from Birmingham, England, and is an active member of a group in Northern Virginia called "Hip Muslim Moms" a playdate group for women with children under 5.
An organizer of the mothers' group, Esraa Bani, expressed shock and dismay at the news of Ahmed's arrest.
"I don't know what to do. This is too close to home. You don't know anybody," Bani said. She added that she wants people to understand what her group is really about: "We are hip, as in a lot of us are born and raised here. We're very savvy moms, working moms, tolerant moms. If we saw any signs of this, it's just not at all part of our demographic."
Phone messages left for Mirza-Ahmed were not returned.
Shires recalled that Mirza-Ahmed wore traditional Muslim clothing -- "She always had her head covered," she said -- while her husband dressed like a "typical" American.
When Farooque Ahmed appeared Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, he sported a full beard and wore a gray polo shirt and blue jeans. He shook his head and let out a deep sigh in apparent disbelief as the charges against him were read. "Yes, yes," Ahmed said, as the judge told him the charges were serious.
Muslim leaders in Northern Virginia said that, as of late Wednesday, no one had reported knowing or having interacted with Ahmed at local mosques. His arrest, however, did touch off a conversation about whether Ahmed might have initiated a plot, or whether law enforcement officials had first floated the idea to him.
Federal officials allege that Ahmed conspired with people he believed to be al-Qaeda operatives to bomb Metro stations at Arlington National Cemetery, Pentagon City, Crystal City and Court House.
Staff writers Peter Finn, Spencer S. Hsu, Greg Miller, Anne E. Kornblut, Jerry Markon, William Wan, Katherine Shaver, Ann Scott Tyson, Derek Kravitz and Kafia A. Hosh, and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
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