Iraqi Defector Fears for Family Left Behind
ATLANTA (AP) _ For Iraqi weightlifter Raed Ahmed, the promise of a new life in the United States is tempered by worry over possible reprisals against relatives he is leaving behind and the fear of being executed if he is sent home.
Ahmed made a dash for freedom Wednesday as Iraqi team officials were busy preparing for a trip from the Olympic village to the Atlanta zoo. At a news conference Thursday, he condemned the government of Saddam Hussein and accused the Iraqi leader’s cousin, Ali Hasan Majid, of atrocities.
``I would imagine that if Ali Hasan Majid would hear what I’m saying about him at this press conference, he would probably hurt my family,″ Ahmed said. ``I would expect all kinds of torture against them.
``I don’t have much knowledge about them and I’m very much worried about them, specifically my brothers.″
Ahmed, 29, said he believed his wife, Madiha Mohamad, was safe.
The London-based Iraqi National Congress, a group opposed to Hussein’s government, apparently has arranged for her to be moved from their home in Basra to a safe haven in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region, where Iraqi forces are barred by international sanctions. The couple has no children.
Ahmed, who carried his country’s flag at the Olympics opening ceremony, said he met Thursday morning with officials of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and asked for political asylum.
``If I was refused by the United States and sent back to Iraq, I will be executed immediately,″ he said through an interpreter.
Ahmed said he was told his case would be decided in a few days.
An INS spokeswoman, Patricia Trubiano, refused to comment on Ahmed. She said department policy prohibits identification of anyone seeking asylum.
Trubiano, however, said the INS has an Olympic office in Atlanta that is putting cases related to the games on a fast track. An ordinary case would take about 60 days to decide.
Ahmed is the second Olympic athlete to defect since the games began. On Tuesday, Mariano Leyva, a trainer who is a 13-year veteran of the Cuban national boxing team, surfaced in Miami after disappearing from the games three days earlier. He said he feared reprisals for speaking out against what he said was mistreatment of Cuban athletes.
Three other Cubans _ two boxers and a baseball pitcher _ defected before the games began.
Ahmed said he intended his defection as a ``political statement against the oppression the Iraqi people are facing, specifically by Saddam himself and his family and his gangs.″
Despite his political aims, Ahmed said he prepared earnestly for the Olympics. ``I trained not only to defect. I was wishing and hoping to get a medal.″
Ahmed finished 23rd in the 218-pound class Sunday. He said he wanted to live in the United States and continue his career as a weightlifter.
``The Iraqi government doesn’t give athletes any privileges,″ he said. ``The Iraqi government has more priorities, which is making wars and trouble.″
Omar Muhamed, a Georgia Tech student and member of the group that helped arrange the defection, said he made contact with Ahmed through a mutual friend in the United States.
Posing as an Argentinean to mislead Iraqi team officials, Muhamed said, he approached Ahmed in the village and handed him a letter offering help. While team officials were busy preparing for the trip to the zoo, Ahmed grabbed his bag and ran to a gas station where Muhamed was waiting in a car.