SEMO defends procedures over terror suspect
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) — Southeast Missouri State University followed protocol and did nothing wrong by admitting a former student from Bangladesh who was charged last week with trying to blow up the Federal Reserve building in New York, school officials said.
Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, did nothing to warrant suspicion during his five months at the Cape Girardeau school, university leaders told the Southeast Missourian (http://bit.ly/Tfq0Vs ).
Nafis spent the spring semester at SEMO, where he was studying full-time toward a bachelor’s degree in cyber-security. He was arrested in New York Oct. 17 in an FBI sting operation. A criminal complaint says he made several attempts to blow up a fake 1,000-pound (454-kilogram) car bomb near the Federal Reserve.
Nafis was arraigned on a criminal complaint and hasn’t been formally charged yet. His family in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka has denied he could have been involved in the plot and said he went to the U.S. only to study.
University leaders told the newspaper that although there was one minor oversight regarding Nafis’ previous transcripts, the school followed all federal rules in his case that govern the admission of international students.
“I don’t see how we could have done anything different,” said Zahir Ahmed, the university’s director of international education and services.
Debbie Below, vice president of enrollment, said Nafis’ application did not include a copy of his transcripts from his time at a private university in Bangladesh. She said the university requests in writing that all international applications include copies of those transcripts, but it is not uncommon for international students to overlook it.
She described his grades at the university in Bangladesh as mediocre and said his admission to Southeast was based on his high-school grades and scores on a national exam that is similar to the ACT in the U.S.
Once Nafis’ transcripts from the Bangladesh university became available at Southeast, he was placed on academic probation, Below said. His coursework at Southeast was substandard — a grade-point-average of below 2.0 on a 4.0 scale, Below said — and he was sent a letter informing him he could not enroll in the fall.
Nafis appealed that decision but was overruled. He then asked the university to transfer his records to a school in Brooklyn, N.Y. Homeland Security was notified about Nafis’ request in accordance with immigration rules, Southeast officials said.
Republican U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Cape Girardeau is among those calling for federal investigations into how international students are tracked, and how Nafis bypassed terrorism screenings. But she doesn’t believe the university was at fault.
“I think most people would want our intelligence services to do everything necessary to find out how serious our national security threat got in the first place,” Emerson said.
Information from: Southeast Missourian, http://www.semissourian.com