Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Bombs and Fraud in the Old Dominion

Note: This post has been expanded based on comments; scroll to the bottom for the update.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

I like to keep up on local jihad-related news in my area, but there isn’t much. If you discount the Jamaat ul-Fuqra compounds, the mujahideen aren’t very busy in Central Virginia.

However, the Richmond-area media have been airing a peculiar story lately, and it may or may not be jihad-related — I’ll let readers decide for themselves. It hasn’t surfaced yet in the national media, nor does it appear in Google News.

It started when a 24-year-old man named Chetanand Sewraz was arrested last week in Chesterfield (just south of the James River from Richmond) for a domestic assault on his wife. Now, according to an story last night on NBC12 , Mr. Sewraz “faces federal charges of possessing a destructive device or bomb in Florida.”

It’s a very bizarre story, and hard to make sense of.
     County police spent the beginning of last week searching after a belief 24-year-old Sewraz and his then wife, Mariea Gamble, had been stealing computer equipment and making fraudulent returns at a Midlothian Staples store in March 2005.
But, while Chesterfield Police were taking pages worth of evidence out of Sewraz’s home a federal search was also underway at the home by ATF agents.
Federal agents now tell us they were looking at Sewraz in an attempted bombing investigation in the Vero Beach, Florida area. As a result, they say Sewraz now faces charges of possessing a destructive device on December 4, 2005 in Indian River County, Florida.
ATF agents clarify their investigation came after the discovery of an explosive device in Mariea Gamble’s vehicle that was not detonated.
The ATF is also looking into a vehicle fire in her mother’s vehicle.
In recent weeks, both Sewraz and his now estranged wife have filed assault and other domestic charges against each other in Chesterfield.
So who tried to blow up whom? And why?

Ashley SewrazAnd how did a young man learn how to commit fraud and make bombs, all at such a tender age?

His name is so unusual that it’s relatively easy to track down information on Mr. Sewraz via internet searches. He is from Mauritius, and also goes by the name “Ashley Sewraz.” He graduated in 2001 from John Kennedy College in Mauritius, and obtained a degree in electrical engineering from Yale in 2004.

MauritiusIf you don’t know where Mauritius is (full disclosure: I didn’t either; I looked in the atlas), it’s in the Indian Ocean, just to the east of Madagascar. It was discovered by the Arabs in 975 A.D., and later colonized by the Dutch. It also happens to be the place where the dodo became extinct.

But back to our story… A woman using the nic “AnnK” was concerned enough about the first news stories on Mr. Sewraz to ask for information on the French-language forum “Ile-Maurice”:
     The below man Chetanand Sewraz aka ‘Ashley’ is my employer and orginially from the Island of Mauritius. This man has been misleading me for months if you can provide any information it would be appreciated!!
There follows a rambling response from several posters in a mixture of French and English. Apparently Mr. Sewraz’s story has found its way into the French-language press; one of the contributors quotes an article (with no link or URL) from L'Express on Sunday January 15th (my translation):

According to the first reports, made following an allegation of fraud and kidnapping worsened by acts of marital violence, he was arrested by the Office of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms (ATF). This federal agency is responsible for fighting crime and is interested particularly in any activity being able to be related to terrorism….

He shone in his studies, which opened to him the doors of a prestigious American university. He earned a degree there, then a masters in electric Engineering. He prepared recently to complete his doctoral studies. “He is a studious boy. He spends more time studying than going out. We never had problems with him since his arrival in the United States… I am astonished that he has been able in so little time to adopt behavior which merits an arrest,” testifies another close acquaintance. From a county where the rate of unemployment is high, this Mauritian succeeded in credit card fraud. “He made a good living. He is the owner of a superb house,” confirms one of his close friends who still does not understand how such a quiet young man could be involved with an offense of such gravity.

So what do you make of all this? Does anybody have any other information on Chetanand “Ashley” Sewraz? Is he:

  • A troubled young man who abused his wife with explosives?
  • An Al Qaeda sleeper sent to Yale to learn a useful skill for the Great Islamic Jihad?
  • A common criminal?
Or all of the above? Or none?

You decide.

Update: Consensus of the comments is that Mr. Sewraz is unlikely to be involved in terrorism. Conservative Mutant and dune runner supply information that Mauritius is not known to have any terrorist activity, and that there are more Hindus on the island than Muslims.

Ik confirms something that I had intuited — “Chetanand” seems to be a Hindu-derived name. I was reluctant to point it out, in case I offended Hindus (“That’s not a Hindu name! How could you think such a thing?”), plus I’ve noticed that some names in Pakistan appear very similar to Hindu ones. As for the surname, what seems to be a variant spelling (“Sooraz”) appears in Nepalese names. For a dead end, try “Suraz” — it’s a placename in Poland.

In any case, why “Ashley”? Was he trying to hide his ethnic origins?

And the most intriguing question for me: Why were bombs the weapon of choice in a marital dispute?

We live in interesting times.


Kiddo said...

Daniel Pipes always says that it's important to assess your local situation, and in this case, the local situation looks pretty fishy. Keep on it.

Baron Bodissey said...

Wyn, I hate to tell you this, but Mauritania is a different place. It's a Muslim country on the west coast of Africa, and, yes, it has its share of Islamist terror.

Baron Bodissey said...

Narcissistic Projection, Cameron Marie, et al --

Thanks for the additional information. I'm reading everything that comes in. If I can make a coherent post out of the results, I'll do an update.

Baron Bodissey said...

Scott -- Yes, I was tipped to the article this evening by a reader. I'll be posting on it if I have time. Thanks.