By Paula Simons, edmontonjournal.com January 30, 2011 6:55 AM
A court sketch of Sayfildin Tahir-Sharif at his first appearance in an Edmonton court on Jan. 20, 2011.
Photograph by: Amanda McRoberts, Global Edmonton
“It was like a slap in the face,” Cara Rain says. “It’s shocking. Surreal. Unbelievable.”
For the last three years, Rain, a 35-year-old mother, has shared her life with the man she knows as Sayfi ldin Tahir-Sharif. She calls him Sayf — and safe is how he always made her feel.
They lived together in her apartment in northeast Edmonton. Together, they raised her four children from a previous relationship: a 14-year-old son, and three daughters aged eight, six and five.
He worked as a stuccoer. She worked at a local supermarket. He did most of the cooking, she says, and most of the cleaning. They were, she says, the “normal-est” family — except, perhaps, for the fact he was an Iraqi Kurd, and she was Stoney and Cree, raised on a reserve west of Edmonton.
And then, two weeks ago, the roof caved in on the life they’d made together, and on all her certainties.
RCMP arrested her common-law husband. They searched the apartment. They seized his computer and Rain’s laptop, their bank records, their papers. Now, Tahir-Sharif is in segregated secure custody at thEdmonton Remand Centre, accused of being part of an international Islamic terrorist. American authorities want to extradite the man whom they call Faruq Khahil Muhammad ‘Isa to New York to face charges of conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals and providing material support to terrorists.
“It’s so surreal. I can’t believe this is happening to me and to Sayf,” Rain says. “What can I say? I lived with the guy and I’ve never seen anything like what they accuse him of. I don’t believe anything that they say about him. He’s innocent. And I’ll support him a million per cent until they can prove to me that he’s not.”
For a week now, she’s been hiding from the media, afraid even to go back to her apartment for fear of being ambushed by reporters.
“I was being harassed. I couldn’t even go home to change my clothes. I felt lost, upside down. I didn’t know who to talk to. I was in shock.”
Until now, she’s only spoken to her family and a few of her closest friends about what’s happened. But she wants people to know that there’s more to her husband than the grim courtroom sketch, than the allegations of terrorist activities.
“I’m not doing this for the media. I’m only doing this for Sayf because I believe he’s innocent and people need to see him in a different light.”
“He’s a good man. He’s a good father. He’s a good husband. He’s a hard worker. What can I say? The person in these (court) papers, that’s not anybody that we know.”
“He’s a very very affectionate, loving person. He’s my companion — and my cheerleader.”
I don’t know exactly what kind of woman I expected to meet when I got word Rain had agreed to speak with me. But she’s no meek victim, no dutiful unquestioning gull. She’s articulate, self-assured, a handsome woman with a broad smile, deep brown eyes, and a tremendous force of personality. She wears a brown hijab over her hair, and a modestly cut top with a high neckline and long sleeves — paired with a pair of blue jeans and stylish black leather boots.
“Allah has made me one tough cookie,” she says. “I left an abusive relationship. I lost both my parents at a young age. I’ve been through a lot of stuff in my life. It’s made me a stronger person. I’ve gone through so much in my lifetime and I’ll probably have to go through a lot more.
“I’d just like it to be spaced out a bit.”
Rain says her husband rarely spoke about his youth in Iraq. She doesn’t recall him ever speaking angrily or critically about the United States. He did call home to Iraq almost every day, she says, but he spoke in Arabic. Since she knows only a few words and phrases, she can’t be sure what he was talking about. But mostly, he says, he spoke to his mother, singing to her, asking her for recipes. Rain says Tahir-Sharif regularly sent money to Iraq, but that was to support his mother, his sisters and a disabled brother. She scoffs at the allegation that Tahir-Sharif told his mother he wanted to die a martyr and be greeted by 70 virgins in paradise, or the allegation that her husband counselled his sister to become a suicide bomber.
“I think that’s the most ridiculous thing ever. He loves his sisters. He loves his family very much.”
Family brought them together. They met in August 2008. His roommate from Iran was dating a friend of hers from her reserve. Their first date was at a Tim Hortons near her apartment. Her babysitter was delayed, and she got to the Tim’s an hour and a half after their date was supposed to start. He was still waiting for her.
They clicked. And just as importantly, she says, he clicked with her four children.
“He fell in love with my kids and they fell in love with him. Every day after work, he’d shower, race over, pick up me and my kids, take us to the park.”
At the playground, she says, he was like another kid, always willing to swing on the monkey bars or go down the slide.
“He was funny, he was sweet, just fun to be around. He didn’t drink, he didn’t do drugs, he wasn’t a bad influence. He was well-grounded and stable, more than I was used to.”
Male role model
For the first time, her children had a strong male role model, a father figure to look up to.
She fell in love with him. And she fell in love with Islam, the structure, discipline, sense of community it offered. She converted to the faith two years ago and took the Muslim name Aisha. Her daughters also took traditional Muslim names, and they all wear the hijab.
“They dress appropriately. No mini-skirts or tank-tops for my girls.”
Drugs and alcohol have no more part in her life.
“I’m a totally different person, a more peaceful person, a more stable person,” she says. “I kind of grew up a little bit lost in my life. I’ve found Islam to be a very peaceful and loving religion. Islam has grounded me so much in my life from the way it was before. I’m so grateful. If it weren’t for Islam, I don’t know if I’d be working, if we’d have food in our fridge.”
Rain says she regularly attends the Al-Rashid, Edmonton’s oldest mainline mosque. But her husband, she says, doesn’t go to any mosque, preferring to pray at home.
The arrival of the RCMP at their door last week was a complete surprise, she says.
She had no idea that their phone was tapped, or that they’d been under surveillance for months. She’s horrified to know that the RCMP listened in to all her most private phone conversations for the last year and a half.
“I don’t feel very good about it. I’ve said a lot of personal things about what I’ve been going through. It’s an invasion of my privacy. They (the RCMP) know things I’ve only shared with my sisters, with my family. They’ve probably watched me go to work, come home, go to the store to buy food,” she says.
“I understand they’re only out to protect us all, but Sayfildin hasn’t done anything wrong.”
RCMP also questioned her for hours, asking her about her husband’s habits, whether he’d ever shown her terrorist videos. When it was all over, she took her children and left the city, visiting family until she could regain her bearings.
She finally visited her husband in Remand this week.
“When I saw him, he was bouncing off the walls, he was so happy to see me,” she says.
She didn’t ask him for any explanations of the allegations against him.
“I believe he hasn’t done anything wrong. What does he need to explain to me?”
At worst, she says, he might be guilty of being a big talker.
“Sayf has a big mouth. He should have shut the hell up and not said anything,” she says. “That’s what I told him when I saw him. You can’t knock the Canadian girl out of me. I’ve always been very opinionated and bull-headed.”
It’s hard to connect the husband she describes, the picture she shows me of a handsome, smiling, slightly built man beaming proudly at his three step-daughters, with the suspect depicted in the arrest complaint drafted by the United States Attorney, the man accused of facilitating a Tunisian terrorist cell which was responsible for the death of five American soldiers. Could one man be both model husband and father, and international terrorist? If so, how good an actor would any such person need to be, to so compartmentalize his life? But Rain describes herself as a mother bear and her husband as her fifth child. Her confidence seems unshaken.
In the meantime, she’s trying to put her family’s life back together. Her four children are now back in school and she’s hoping to return to work soon.
“I need to power up, to strengthen myself to be with people first,” she says. “When my kids are fed, and they’ve had their play and they’re in bed — when I’m alone, the strength drains out of me.”
“Inshallah, God willing, everything will work out. I tell my girls every day, when they feel lonesome, when they get upset and they cry for their dad, ‘All we can do is pray that Allah will protect him and guide him, and that we’ll be looked after while he’s gone,'” she says.
“Allah only knows why this has come upon us. Maybe I’m not meant to understand. Maybe I just have to have faith in Him. And in Sayf.”
– -Jan. 19 — Sayfildin Tahir-Sharif, also known as Tahir Sharif Sayfildin and Faruq Khalil Muhammad ‘Isa, is arrested at his apartment in northeast Edmonton. An arrest complaint filed by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York says that U.S. authorities seek to charge him with conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals and providing material support to terrorists. The U.S. Attorney alleges Tahir-Sharif, a 38-year-old Iraqi immigrant and Canadian citizen, was a facilitator with a Tunisian terror cell responsible for a suicide bombing in Iraq which claimed the life of five American soldiers in April 2009. According to court documents, wiretap evidence collected by the RCMP includes conversations in which Tahir-Sharif expresses his wish to become a martyr and to acquire weapons. There are no Canadian charges against him.
– -Jan. 20 — Tahir-Sharif makes a brief court appearance. His lawyer, Bob Aloneissi, confirms that his client intends to fight the U.S. extradition request.
– -Jan. 27 — Tahir-Sharif appears briefly in court. His bail hearing is adjourned.
– -Feb. 2 — Tahir-Sharif’s bail hearing set for this date.
Read more: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/Allah+made+tough+cookie/4192390/story.html#ixzz1CXb7OnJu