- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2003

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Geneva Bowling started buying gas at H&M; Auto because of its low prices. She kept going back because of the handsome, Pakistani-born cashier. Soon, she and Iyman Faris were dating, going out to Middle Eastern restaurants or watching action movies. She noticed that he bonded with her son, Mike, then 10.

Their marriage lasted five years before arguments over money and housework led to an amicable divorce in April 2000.

Mrs. Bowling says she had no inkling that her ex-husband — who for some time drove a cross-country trucking route and sometimes returned to his native land — was leading “a secret, double life,” as Attorney General John Ashcroft has said.

Faris, 34, is facing up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for being an accomplice to terrorism. He pleaded guilty in May to providing sleeping bags, cell phones and cash to terror network al Qaeda. His sentencing had been scheduled for Friday in a federal court in Alexandria, but was postponed yesterday, a court official said, to allow prosecutors as well as defense attorneys more time to make additional requests.

According to federal investigators, Faris traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to carry out errands for terrorists. He met with Osama bin Laden. He scouted U.S. sites for potential terrorist attacks, according to the government, including a plan to topple theBrooklyn Bridge with tools called gas cutters that could burn through its cables.

“Even now,” Mrs. Bowling says, “I can’t really tell you I believe it.”

Faris was born in Kashmir, and his parents divorced when he was young. He came to the United States in 1994 on a student visa — though he apparently never took classes — and became a U.S. citizen in 1999.

Faris, with wavy black hair and olive skin, was charming and prone to flirting. Women vied for his attention at the gas station, bringing him home-cooked meals and talking to him for hours.

“Everything about him was different. He added that whole spice-of-life thing,” Mrs. Bowling said.

As a family, she, her son and Faris lived a typically American life. They sometimes went for dinner at an American-style buffet up the street or for Turkish food at a suburban mall. They liked watching movies. One of Faris’ favorites was “Air Force One,” in which Harrison Ford portrays a president battling terrorists.

Faris “didn’t show any hostility toward America as a country” and spoke admiringly of its freedoms, said Mike Bowling, now 18, who recalled spending hours with his stepfather watching action and martial-arts films like Steven Seagal’s “Under Siege 2.” When they played video and computer games together, Faris often picked “Comanche II: Maximum Overkill,” a helicopter combat-simulation game.

Faris helped research the Internet for information on his stepson’s interest: military gadgets like spy cameras and night-vision goggles. He bought a laptop computer and took it on a trip to Pakistan.

Were his computer skills used as part of a double life? Mrs. Bowling recalls e-mails that Faris sent her when he was in Pakistan, simple communications from husband to wife.

The government describes e-mails to al Qaeda members containing code words.

Authorities say Faris told a bin Laden lieutenant in late 2000 that he was interested in ultralight planes. The terrorist group wanted to obtain an “escape airplane,” the government says. Faris provided al Qaeda contact information he had looked up on a computer at an Internet cafe in Karachi, Pakistan.

Mrs. Bowling recalls Faris’ long-standing interest in aircraft, though she never suspected him of terrorist leanings during or after their marriage. When they first met, he told her he wanted to learn to fly. She took him to Don Scott Field, an airport operated by Ohio State University, to ask about lessons, but he didn’t follow up.

He occasionally bought glider and airplane magazines. Mr. Bowling said Faris sometimes surfed the Internet for information on ultralight planes.

A month after the divorce, he left the country for a year. Mrs. Bowling assumed he was visiting family. The government says Faris visited al Qaeda officials in Afghanistan. Later that year, he reportedly joined up with a friend and al Qaeda supporter and traveled to Afghanistan, where he met bin Laden.

The friend, described as “conspirator-1” by the government, had known Faris since the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The government says Faris scouted the Brooklyn Bridge late last year, then sent a message to “C-1” telling him “the weather is too hot.” The coded phrase meant he thought the plot was unlikely to succeed.

Even Faris’ work as a trucker is open to contradictory interpretations.

Mrs. Bowling recalls that after working as a pizza-delivery man, Faris told her one day that a friend had talked him into becoming a truck driver. He took a three-week driving course, got a trucker’s license, and began driving cross-country a week at a time, making about $76,000 a year.

But the government says that when al Qaeda officials asked Faris last year how he could help, he described his trucking routes and deliveries for airport cargo planes.

According to investigators, a bin Laden lieutenant told Faris that al Qaeda was interested in cargo planes, which hold more weight and fuel.

Mrs. Bowling can’t connect these actions with the man she married.

Faris disagreed with bin Laden and al Qaeda, dismissing them as Islamic fundamentalists, she says. Maybe he was in it for the money, she says, adding, “He told me he wanted to be a millionaire.”

She wonders whether he was in his right mind when he admitted that he had helped terrorists.

In 1997 or ‘98, Mrs. Bowling says, she got a call at the auto-parts store where she works. Faris had tried to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge over a highway. When she visited him in the hospital, she was startled by his ravings.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema agreed to allow a psychiatrist to evaluate Faris. He has been placed on a suicide watch at an Alexandria jail and is taking an antidepressant, court papers say.

Mrs. Bowling said she no longer loves Faris, though she does sympathize.

“He’s definitely lost his way. This is not the Iyman I knew. The Iyman I knew was a good person, devout in his prayers. I never knew him to hurt anybody or say anything mean to anybody, really.”

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