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The doctor’s wife, who now goes by Heather Imran, has remained by her husband’s side throughout his ordeal, returning periodically to Canada to preserve her own visitor status. When she is not in Canada or visiting her husband in El Centro, she spends time at a nearby sporting-goods store, not far from the detention center, where a friend allows her to use the computer. Or she stays with friends in San Bernardino.
She acknowledges that her professional training is an unfortunate aspect of the couple’s situation. “I know what this looks like,” she says. “I know what I’d think. But you can’t choose the people you fall in love with sometimes, ya know?”
Imran’s choice to divorce his Muslim wife in Pakistan and marry Heather has not met with his parents’ approval, the doctor says.
In May, an L.A. Weekly correspondent — who also is a Pakistani physician — visited Imran’s parents, Salamat Ali and his wife, a retired history professor, at their home in Lahore, in a serene residential colony for government officials. During that interview Ali said that something was different about his oldest son when he returned to Pakistan in August 2000. “For some unknown reasons that he never uttered to us, [Imran] kept saying that he must return to U.S.,” Ali told the correspondent. Asked whether he was concerned about his oldest son, he replied, “Not at all. His case is of minor overstay, that, God willing, will be settled soon.”
Ali did not appear to know exactly what was going on with his son. He said he did not know that his son had remarried in the United States. He denied that his son is separated from his Muslim wife in Pakistan, much less divorced. He knew nothing about his son being attacked by extremists in Pakistan. Ali said that maybe the doctor received some anonymous threats, but later backtracked and said only that his son had been acting strange before he left.
But “strange” is a relative term considering the compounded troubles of Dr. Ahmad Imran, who explained it this way in his May 28 letter: “Regarding my departure from Pakistan, my dad’s statement that he did not know the reason was lost in translation and wrongfully understood. What he said was that he did not know how my reason would constitute my motive.” Imran goes on to explain in his letter that his motive in leaving Pakistan was to “give the events time to cool off, apply for labor certification and file for amnesty.”
Over the telephone the doctor adds that in his culture a son asks for his father’s permission to marry, which he did not do. “My father was upset about Adnan [Chaudhry],” he says. “I did not want to give him [an] extra burden.”
Professor Khaled Abou El Fadl, who has learned to mistrust 80 percent of the stories he hears from asylum seekers, sees the doctor’s dilemma as partly of his own making but born out of his brother’s conviction. “I suppose it is possible that Dr. Imran becomes radicalized by the discrimination his brother has suffered and comes back seeking revenge. However, it is more likely that [Imran] feels guilt and returns to fight for his brother. Under those circumstances, it is not unrealistic to invent a story of being attacked by Sunnis or to start searching for a bride.”
For the time being, U.S. officials are not willing to shed much light on their investigations. And they don’t seem too concerned that the media are starting to ask questions. “How do you know [Ahmad] Imran and [Adnan] Chaudhry are really brothers?” says Lauren Mack, a spokesperson for Homeland Security.
Meantime, in Lahore, Salamat Ali and his wife remain most concerned about their youngest son, even though their other son, Ahmad Rizwan, was severely beaten in Pakistan recently by Islamic extremists. Imran says the attackers mistook Rizwan for him. While Salamat Ali keeps his opinions to himself, the doctor’s mother exhibits less stoicism. She passes most of her time praying for her sons in the United States, she says. When asked how she feels about them being imprisoned in a foreign land, she looks down and starts sobbing. “Tell Ahmad [Imran] to come back to Pakistan, enough is enough,” she says.
Then there is her baby, Adnan Chaudhry, who she says used to wake up early in the morning and sleep at his mother’s feet, but who now is doing hard time in one of the most violent prisons in California. “I am a woman, so I can weep, and reduce the burden from my heart,” she says. “But look at their father, he thinks that men don’t cry, but he is eating himself within.”
Ali Ahmed Rind, in Pakistan, contributed to this story.