In a phone conversation, Ahmad said he was free and working at Shifa. “Until this case is finished, I can’t discuss this,” Ahmad told a ProPublica reporter. “And it could be dangerous for you, too.”
Some of Fai’s supporters defended him. They pointed out that Fai was arrested the same day U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in India, where officials had long complained about his group. They pointed out that Kromberg, the assistant U.S. attorney on the case, has been accused of anti-Muslim bias. They said they believe Fai was a victim of the chill in U.S.-Pakistan relations.
“They say that when two elephants fight, it’s the grass that gets trampled,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the leader of a moderate separatist group in Kashmir who always traveled with Fai when visiting the U.S. “Similarly, poor Fai has been a victim of these cross-agency wars.”
At a detention hearing on July 26, Fai’s lawyers indicated they will argue that even if Fai got money from the ISI, he didn’t follow its directions. “His message was always his own message,” said one lawyer, Khurrum Wahid, in a news conference after the hearing. “It was never the message of the Pakistani government.”
Some legal experts said the case raised questions about why the Justice Department would so aggressively pursue Fai, even asking for pretrial confinement, considering the relatively light charge. Charles Swift, a former military defense lawyer who has represented high-profile terror defendants in private practice, said he researched the registration law and could not find another case in which criminal charges had been pursued.
Even when the Irish Northern Aid Committee in New York was accused of being a front for the Irish Republican Army, the group was only sued civilly and eventually forced to register. A group of 10 Russian spies was charged with failing to register last year, but they were allowed to leave the country as part of a spy swap.
Several Kashmiris said they worried that the real victim in the case would be their struggle for self-determination.
“The Kashmir movement, as we talk about it in Washington D.C., was identified with Dr. Fai,” said Mumtaz Wani, a lawyer in Washington from the Indian side of Kashmir. “And we find it’s a huge setback to us. At this stage I don’t feel that many in Congress will be willing to talk to us. Not even Dan Burton.”
Burton and Pitts announced they would donate any campaign contributions linked to Fai and Ahmad to charity. The FBI affidavit says there’s no evidence any politician knew Fai’s money had come from the ISI. “I was really stunned that he might be an agent, undisclosed and unregistered,” Pitts said. “I was shocked.”
After his arrest, Fai sat down for another interview with Linden.
This time, Fai admitted that he had been affiliated with the ISI for 15 years, and that no one on the Kashmiri American Council board had known the group was funded by the ISI, Kromberg said at the detention hearing. Fai also allegedly wasn’t just bankrolled by Pakistani spies. Instead, Kromberg said, Fai “agreed that the ISI directs him, Mr. Fai, to go to certain conferences and to report on certain people, including some that were mentioned in the criminal complaint.”
Fai told ProPublica he’s stopped talking to Ahmad or anyone else in Pakistan. He said he doesn’t want anyone else to get in trouble.
While under house arrest, Fai keeps working even as he reports all his meetings to the FBI. He goes to the mosque to meet friends. He edits a new 54-page paper on Kashmir, focusing on topics such as the U.N. resolution from 1949 and the visit of the imam of Ka’aba in 1980. He sends out emails to the Kashmiri American Council’s mailing list, saying he will keep fighting for Kashmiris to decide their future.
“God willing!” he wrote in one. “I will continue to do that in days, weeks, months and years to come.”