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Indian held at Houston airport with jihadi material

Last updated on: August 24, 2010 18:44 IST

An Indian documentary film-maker has been arrested at the Houston airport for allegedly carrying suspicious Islamic jihad literature, brass knuckles and USD 10,000 in cash.

The 40-year-old Vijay Kumar was arrested at George Bush Intercontinental airport on Friday after "acting suspicious," when screeners thought they saw a possible handgun in a scan of his baggage.

Investigators found the brass knuckles, a manual for a handgun and Islamic literature in Kumar's checked luggage.

State district judge David Mendoza on Monday lowered Kumar's bail from USD 50,000 to USD 5,000 after learning more details about the case and that prosecutors were willing to let him plead to time served for unlawfully carrying a weapon in an airport.

Kumar was in Houston to lecture a Hindu organization about Islamic fundamentalism and the books packed in his checked luggage were educational tools, authorities and his lawyer told the court.

Attorneys for Kumar said he has surrendered his passport while he mulls the deal. He does not want a criminal record to interfere next time he visits the United States, his attorney Grant Scheiner said.

"I think that everybody realised that he is not a threat. He's a peaceful man," Scheiner said.

"He was here to visit the Hindu Congress of America, to deliver a lecture. It was about an interfaith discussion between Hindus and Muslims about the harms of terrorism."

Scheiner said Kumar, who speaks very little English, carries the brass knuckles for protection in India.

When Kumar was pulled aside for secondary screening, after raising suspicion with Transportation Security Administration 'behavioural detection officers,' even more alarm was raised by what was found.

The title of one book was Spycraft and another was titled New Voices of Islam and the police noticed mentions of "infidels" in some of the writings that could be made out clearly, the Houston Chronicle reported.

"It definitely raised our concerns," said one law enforcement official involved in the arrest.

"Not your everyday passenger would have this sort of stuff and it definitely poses a concern for anyone involved in airport security," he said.

The books and radical material were found in stacks packed in Kumar's carry-on luggage, according to the police report.

Officers also found a pair of brass knuckles in the luggage he had checked with his airline to be carried in the cargo hold of the aircraft.

In Texas, brass knuckles are prohibited by law so he was booked on a felony charge of Possessing a Prohibited Weapon in a Prohibited Place (airport).

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, who were called to the secondary screening area where Kumar was being detained, checked his name on terror watch lists and 'no fly' lists, but there is no indication that his name has appeared on any of those lists.

Besides, the police also confiscated more than USD 10,000 in cash that Kumar is accused of carrying on his trip since as per federal law he had not declared the currency.

The police and FBI agents said they were turning their attention to Kumar's background and what he was doing in Houston, and they're also planning to examine a computer flash drive (or "thumb drive") that Kumar was carrying.

Flash drives can hold thousands of documents or diagrams, but no one had seen the contents as of Friday.

A search warrant may be required to view the thumb drive, even though international passengers typically have fewer legal protections when the government wants to look at something they were going to be carrying onto an airliner.

Kumar told the police he was in Houston attending an "Islamic seminar."

A search of federal court records in Houston shows a 2007 lawsuit filed by a man with the same name, same age and same hometown as Kumar.

In that lawsuit, Kumar described himself as a native and citizen of India, who was admitted to the United States in 2004 on a student visa to the University of Connecticut.

The lawsuit said he had earlier studied at Texas Tech University after entering the US in 2003.

He then transferred to University of Connecticut, where the lawsuit said he earned an MBA degree to bolster his undergraduate engineering degree.

The lawsuit said he married a US citizen in 2004 and he filed to change his immigration status to allow him to remain in the US past his student visa in 2005.

His lawsuit claims the FBI has been holding up his citizenship paperwork by claiming it couldn't complete the proper background checks.

Seema Hakhu Kachru in Houston
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