NEW YORK: Former pizza deliveryman Ansar Mahmood, deported by the United States to Pakistan after becoming one of many Muslim men to face increased surveillance following the 9/11 attacks, says he has no bitterness toward America.
Mahmood painfully recalls his three years in prison before his April 2005 expulsion from the United States, his adopted country, but prefers to remember the people who rallied to help him in Hudson, New York, the rural town he had called home.
"They are people with a clean and nice heart; this is the real USA," Mahmood, 34, said from his village in northeastern Pakistan, where he drives a van taking people to and from their jobs and schools in the nearby city of Gujrat.
"When people call from the USA I feel good in my heart. There are a lot of good people there," Mahmood said.
Muslim men like Mahmood faced heightened scrutiny in the United States following the 9/11 attacks carried out by 19 hijackers aligned with the militant network al Qaeda.
Mahmood won a US permanent resident card in the "green card" lottery in 1999 and arrived in 2000.
In October 2001, weeks after 9/11, he was spotted photographing scenery near a water treatment plant in Hudson, about 210 km north of New York City.
Police were alerted by a plant worker and questioned Mahmood on suspicion that he was a potential terrorist. He was quickly cleared of any terrorism-related worries like tampering with the water supply. But his troubles had just begun.
An investigation launched after the incident found he had helped two childhood friends, a married couple from Pakistan, lease an apartment. Their visas were expired, and he was charged with the felony of harboring aliens. He maintains 10 years later that he did not know their immigration status.
But he pleaded guilty to the charges and became subject to deportation under a 1996 US law called the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.
Peace activists and several US lawmakers rallied to his side but were unable to keep him in the United States.
More than six years after his return to Pakistan, Mahmood said he feels sad when he thinks about 9/11 and what happened to him. He describes his life now as "all right" after "very tough times." He has wedding plans before year's end.