Muneeza Paracha recounts the events surrounding the arrest of her brother and father, and its effect on her family.

At first glance, Muneeza Paracha appears to be a normal 23-year-old. She's a student in one of Karachi's better known institutions and tries to manage her academics along with her duties towards her family. Or what's left of it.

Muneeza's elder brother Uzair was detained three years ago (March 28, 2003) in New York and has just been found guilty on five counts of terrorism-related charges. Less than four months after Uzair's detention, Muneeza's father Saifullah was kidnapped from Bangkok (on July 6, 2003) and is now being held as an enemy combatant in Guantanamo Bay.

For three years, the family has appealed for attention, fought for support and waited. "It's the wait that's killing," Muneeza says in an exclusive interview to Weekend Review. "The uncertainty, the fears, the insecurities ... all that has had a huge psychological impact on us."

Muneeza last spoke to her father on July 5, 2003, after he had boarded Thai Airways flight TG-502 en route to Bangkok to meet his American partner Charles Anteby. "He said he was fine and the plane was about to take off," recalls the young girl, whose e-mail user handle is " dadz_little_gurl".

Anteby had asked Saifullah, in the last week of June 2003, to visit Bangkok for a business meeting with K-Mart officials. Anteby had often visited Pakistan, but this time he insisted on a meeting in a different country citing lack of security for Americans. Saifullah thought this strange, particularly since Anteby had visited Pakistan several times a year in the past.

"My mother saw my father off at the airport and that was the last she saw of him. Later we discovered that my father had left Karachi on the Thai Airways flight, but we didn't know what had happened to him," she says.

Saifullah had been abducted from Bangkok and taken to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where he was interrogated for his alleged association with terrorists and for supporting their activities. The Parachas had no idea of his whereabouts until an NBC broadcast on August 5, 2003 which reported the charges levelled against Uzair. It also said that Saifullah was in US custody. The family still didn't know where he was.

"Our first contact with my father was a letter through the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and that's when he told us he had been detained," she says. Following that letter, there has been sporadic contact between Saifullah and his wife Farhat, even though she writes at least one letter to him every week.

After over 14 months of detention in Afghanistan, Saifullah was shifted to Guantanamo Bay's Camp Delta 5 in September 2004. "Contact has marginally improved since then, but our letters - both incoming and outgoing - are heavily censored and there's no knowing whether our letters reach him at all. My mother writes regularly, but we received a few letters from my father in which he says he hasn't heard from us in six months," Muneeza says.

Saifullah appeared in front of a military tribunal in December 2004 and was declared an enemy combatant. "This was on the basis of far-fetched allegations, all of which he denied," she says. Muneeza does not know of any other consequence of the tribunal hearing. As she says, "He is still there".

Uzair's arrest

And so is her brother Uzair, who continues to be at New York City's Metropolitan Detention Centre. At the time of his arrest, Uzair was 23 and, in Muneeza's words, known to have had a "good, uninterrupted, academic record with a major in marketing". The young man joined his father in the family business and they took up a project that involved Uzair marketing upmarket apartments to non-resident Pakistanis or Americans of Pakistani origin.

"My brother's office was basically a desk in the New York City office of Charles Anteby. It was a transparent business. We've been green card holders for a long time. My father's association with the US goes back 30 years when he first went there as a student. We lived there for a long time until we returned in the mid-1980s to settle in Pakistan.

"Less than two months after Uzair reached New York to work, he was picked up by two FBI agents from his office. We've heard he is looked after well, but when he speaks to us we can tell that despite his positive remarks he is psychologically down. He is allowed a 15-minute call per month to us. Recently he was penalised for talking to another inmate and this facility, as they call it, was taken away from him for eight months."

According to her, Uzair went into severe depression on hearing about Saifullah's arrest. " Uzair has been kept in isolation for most of his detention. We know this through our lawyers. But I don't know how he must be feeling now," she says.

She says "now" because last November Uzair was found guilty on all five counts: conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organisation; providing or attempting to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organisation; conspiracy to provide funds, goods or services to a specially designated terrorist; providing or attempting to provide finances, goods, or services to a specially designated terrorist and unlawful transfer or use of identification documents. He faces up to 75 years in prison and his sentence is scheduled for early May.

A Washington Post report on the trial said prosecutors allege Uzair posed as Majid Khan - an alleged Al Qaida operative - to help Khan get immigration documents to "sneak" into the US. According to government documents released later, Khan was planning a series of bombings at gasoline stations and Uzair agreed to manage $200,000 in Al Qaida funds.

Unsealed statements

Uzair's defence had rested its hopes on unsealed statements made by Khan and another Al Qaida operative, Ammar Baluchi, who said Uzair didn't know about their ties to the terrorist organisation. Uzair's trial saw an unprecedented first, when the district judge allowed the defence to present statements from alleged Al Qaida members.

However, the family's case is weakened by the fact that Saifullah met Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden on two occasions. "My father met Bin Laden by chance. He had not gone to Afghanistan to specifically meet him. On his first visit in 1999, he took a delegation of 65 people comprising industrialists and officials. He chaired an organisation called the Council of Welfare Organisations of which many small organisations were members. My father did mention the meetings openly and was impressed by Bin Laden's humility and soft voice (even though my father did not directly speak with Bin Laden as he [Laden] does not speak English).

"They met federal ministers there. My father was in favour of education, especially for girls, and tried to convince the Taliban minister to have schools for girls. He also wanted our industrialists to put up factories. This was because he felt bad for our neighbouring country, which had been left on its own after ruination.

"He says he gave his business card to Bin Laden and wanted to interview him and find out his views on world affairs. My father had a production company that made programmes for Pakistan television. He wanted to make news-based, religious and educational programmes that would bridge the gap between the West and East. The second meeting took place in 2000 when my father went with many other people. At that time Bin Laden was not a very big name and my dad probably did not realise the grave repercussions such meetings could have had," she says.

Considering her father was a businessman, Muneeza never found it odd that her father would have many visitors at his office. "It was only logical that a businessman would have a big network and my father would meet so many people and he couldn't possibly do background checks on everyone he met... though..." and she stops.

Her sentence seems easy enough to fill in, but it is clearly hard for this young woman to spell out as she highlights the absence of the two most important men in her life as an enormous void. Her mother Farhat struggles to salvage the businesses and Muneeza lends a hand in taking care of her two younger siblings. She admits to having serious problem trusting people.

"I can't trust anyone ever again. Even you. If my best friend hadn't referred us and if your e-mail ID didn't have, I would have never spoken to you. It's a dangerous world and you never know who is out to get you."

How the crisis unfolded for the Parachas

Twin Towers fall

Uzair Paracha taken in from his office for questioning and detention by US authorities

Saifullah Paracha learns of his son's (Uzair's) detention

Saifullah tells his wife and three other children about Uzair

Saifullah leaves for Bangkok on business

Saifullah is abducted by US authorities on arrival in Bangkok and taken to Afghanistan for questioning

The Paracha family receives a letter from Saifullah telling them where he is. They did not know about his whereabouts until then

September 2004
Saifullah is shifted from Afghanistan to Guantanamo

December 2004
Saifullah stands before a tribunal

November 2005
Uzair stands trial and is found guilty on all counts. He will be sentenced in May.