Here There and Everywhere

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Terrorism at the Mall of America

I’ve been listening to a very painful report on National Public Radio, Under Suspicion at the Mall of America, a report about counter-terrorism measures being taken at the Mall of America, a huge mall, in Minnesota. One reason I’ve always wanted to go there is that I think I remember it having a huge, huge swim area, with lots of water slides and wave machines, and it just looked like a lot of fun. When I look at the mall map, I don’t see any pool area. You know malls – they change, and it’s been years. It was probably a liability issue.

So this is the ten year anniversary of 9/11, an event so awful most of us barely want to think about it. There are some things that just go so deep, you could get lost in the horror of it all. Officials are warning of the possibility of anniversary acts of terrorism, and Mall of America has always felt itself to be a vulnerable symbol, due to its name.

This is a lengthy report of “suspicious” incidents at Mall of America. They make me want to cry. You can read the report, but if you listen to the audio (you just click on the audio symbol) it is a richer, more detailed report. Listen – and weep.

Under Suspicion at the Mall of America

Below is an excerpt:

A Missing Cellphone

Yet look what happened when Najam Qureshi’s father came under suspicion at the Mall of America.

Najam Qureshi was born in Pakistan, but he’s been a U.S. citizen since he was a teenager. Today, he manages computer systems for a major company near Minneapolis. He and his family live on a pretty suburban street.

Najam Qureshi’s father came under suspicion at the Mall of America after leaving his cellphone in the food court.

In January 2007, an FBI agent showed up on his doorstep. It turned out that a few weeks before, Qureshi’s father had left his cellphone on a table in the Mall of America’s food court. When the mall’s counterterrorism unit saw the unattended phone, plus someone else’s cooler and stroller, guards cordoned off the area. Qureshi’s father wandered back, looking for his phone, and the RAM unit interrogated him and then reported him to the Bloomington police. In turn, the police reported the incident to the FBI. The documents we obtained show that the mall’s reports went to state and federal law enforcement, in roughly half the cases. The incident with Qureshi’s father led the FBI to want to question Qureshi himself, in his own home.

“He asked me if I knew anybody in Afghanistan. And that was kind of like, what?! And, then he asked me if I had any friends in Pakistan,” Qureshi says.

The FBI also asked him if he knew anybody that would try to hurt the U.S. government, according to Qureshi.

“My reaction in my mind, was, ‘How dare this guy in my house, come in and say this,’ ” he recalls.

But mall officials stand by their program of identifying suspicious people.

“You’re talking about a handful of people that are complaining, out of the 750 million plus that have been through these doors since 1992,” Bausch says. “And we apologize if it, you know, if it caused them any inconvenience, I mean we really do.”

“Unfortunately the world has changed,” says Bausch. “We assume you’d want your family and friends to be safe if they are in the building. And we simply noticed something that we didn’t think was right.”

A commander with the Bloomington police said these reports would be kept on file for decades. When Qureshi found out that the 11-page report reading “suspicious person” would be kept that long, his eyes filled with tears.

“It shattered an image of the U.S. that I had, fundamentally. I don’t know, especially when I saw some of these reports. It’s definitely bothersome, how small things can just, you know, trickle up that quickly, and all of a sudden you’re labeled. And once you’re labeled, you’re basically messed up, right?”

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September 7, 2011 Posted by | Building, Bureaucracy, Counter-terrorism, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Living Conditions | Leave a comment