LINDEN, Guyana - To Christians as well as Muslims in this scrappy mining city, former Mayor Abdul Kadir was far more than a politician. A spiritual leader and mentor, he went out of his way to help denizens in greatest need.
Yesterday, Linden and the rest of Guyana were reeling from the news that Kadir might have yet another persona - a terrorist wanna-be plotting to blow up Kennedy Airport.
"His path was never violence. He taught us to respect the law, to make something of ourselves," said Denzil Lovell, 22, an Internet center manager who attended spelling bees and history lectures Kadir hosted for visitors of all creeds at his dilapidated but rambling wooden house.
Kadir, 55, a civil engineer and participant at his mosque who was mayor from 1994-96 and ended a five-year term as an opposition party member in Guyana's Parliament last year, was one of three men of Guyanese origin named in the JFK plot. He was to be arraigned today in Trinidad. An impoverished, former Dutch and British colony, Guyana has a turbulent political history but has been largely spared militant Muslim violence that has struck the neighboring island of Trinidad, where U.S. officials say part of the JFK plot also was hatched. About 10 percent of Guyanese are Muslim.
Five years ago, a prominent Iranian Shia cleric and alleged friend of Kadir's was kidnapped and killed in the capital Georgetown. But in Linden, a once-thriving mining city of 70,000 where cows roam the street and many of the bauxite pits now sit idle, residents said they'd never seen religious strife.
Perhaps no one appeared more shocked at Kadir's arrest than his wife and nine children.
"At no time has he ever hurt anyone or had cause to harm America or the rest of the world," said the suspect's wife, Isha Kadir, during an interview in the family's front yard here, as turkeys pecked at the dirt near her feet. "It is simply not possible that he is this terrorist."
Defying the tropical heat, Isha Kadir wore elaborate Muslim black robes and the headscarf known as the Hijab, as did three of her grown daughters. On a wall above them hung a portrait of a bearded Kadir, looking devout and dapper in a gold-embroidered skull cap.
U.S. authorities describe Kadir as an associate of Jamaat al Muslimeen, a militant Muslim group in Trinidad that staged a bloody coup attempt in 1990. They say he tried to introduce the three other suspects to the group's leaders in Trinidad for funding and expertise.
But Jamaat al Muslimeen is from a Sunni sect of Islam. In contrast, Kadir, who converted to Islam in 1974, is a Shia.
Kadir traveled to Iran most recently in 1998. He was about to fly to Iran for a spiritual conference when he was arrested Friday night. In addition, two of his children studied religion for several years in Iran, including a son who is an imam in Linden.
"I think the Iran connection is why we are having this problem," Isha Kadir said.
Despite Kadir's following here, not everyone was convinced of his innocence. "I can't say he definitely didn't do it," said one Linden resident and ruling government party supporter, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Kadir had a radical streak and "would do whatever he thought it took" to carry out his beliefs, he said.
Isha Kadir and her daughters acknowledged that Kadir recently hosted two men authorities say are suspects in the JFK bomb plot, including alleged mastermind Russell Defreitas. But they said they thought the men were helping Kadir raise funds to rebuild a local mosque.
Kadir also knew a third suspect, Abdel Nur of Guyana, but hadn't seen him in years, the women said.
According to U.S. prosecutors, Kadir offered engineering advice to the alleged plotters, for example, explaining that blowing up fuel tanks at JFK would require two explosions rather than one. He also allegedly offered to help fund some of their travel between New York and Guyana and told co-conspirators he wanted to minimize the killing of innocents.