DHAKA, Bangladesh – Slumped at the edge of the bed she would have to share with four relatives that night, the 16-year-old girl from Queens looked stunned. On the hot, dusty road from the airport, she had watched rickshaws surge past women sweeping the streets, bone-thin in their bright saris. Now, in a language she barely understood, unfamiliar aunts and uncles lamented her fate: to be forced to leave the United States, her home since kindergarten, because the F.B.I. had mysteriously identified her as a potential suicide bomber. “I feel like I’m on a different planet,” the girl, Tashnuba Hayder, said. “It just hit me. How everything happened – it’s like, ‘Oh, my God.'” The story of how it happened – how Tashnuba, the pious, headstrong daughter of Muslim immigrants living in a neighborhood of tidy lawns and American flags, was labeled an imminent threat to national security – is still shrouded in government secrecy.
After nearly seven weeks in detention, she was released in May on the condition that she leave the country immediately. Only immigration charges were brought against her and another 16-year-old New York girl, who was detained and released. Federal officials will not discuss the matter. But as the first terror investigation in the United States known to involve minors, the case reveals how deeply concerned the government is that a teenager might become a terrorist, and the lengths to which federal agents will go if they get even a whiff of that possibility. And it has drawn widespread attention, stoking the debate over the right balance between government vigilance and the protection of individual freedoms. (MORE)