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Sri Lankan government misidentifies Towson woman's photo as depicting terrorism suspect

The Baltimore Sun

A Maryland woman’s photo was misidentified by the Sri Lankan government this week as depicting a suspect in the Easter Day bombings.

Sri Lankan police released the names and photos this week of six suspects in Sunday’s deadly attacks. However, a photo of Amara Majeed, a 2015 graduate of Towson High School, was used incorrectly to identify the suspect Abdul Cader Fathima Qadiya, according to the Sunday Times, a weekly Sri Lankan English language newspaper, and a BBC reporter in Sri Lanka.

The police have since confirmed the picture was incorrectly released and said they “regret any inconvenience caused by sharing,” tweeted the BBC’s Azzam Ameen.

A Sri Lankan embassy representative in Washington said it was looking into the matter.

Majeed, whose parents emigrated to the United States from Sri Lanka, said the experience has been “startling and jarring.”

“Sri Lanka is my motherland,” she said Thursday. “It’s very painful to be associated with [the attacks].”

A spokeswoman for the Maryland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations criticized the Sri Lankan government’s error in a statement Thursday.

“Government agencies have a special added responsibility to fact-check information and vet sources before publicizing content because of the trust placed in them by the public,” said Zainab Chaudry, the director of Maryland outreach for CAIR. “Not everyone who read the initial posts will see the corrections. As religious tensions grow in Sri Lanka, this incompetence in the aftermath of the devastating Easter attack has placed Amara and her family in even graver danger.”

Majeed criticized what she said was a “lack of diligence” from police and took to social media to clear her name.

“What a thing to wake up to!” Majeed wrote in the Facebook post. “This is obviously completely false and frankly, considering that our communities are already greatly afflicted with issues of surveillance, I don't need more false accusations and scrutiny.”

Majeed asked in the post that authorities and members of the public refrain from implicating and associating her with the attacks that killed more than 250 people.

“Next time, be more diligent about releasing such information that has the potential to deeply violate someone's family and community,” she said.

Sri Lankan leaders have faced criticism for reports that their intelligence community failed to detect or warn of possible suicide attacks before nine bombings of churches and other sites were carried out.

Majeed, who went to Brown University in Providence, R.I., after graduating from Towson High, is a youth activist and founder of The Hijab Project, an organization meant to empower Muslim American women.

As a teen, Majeed made a name for herself in Maryland as a Muslim feminist and an advocate for correcting the perceptions that headscarves are a symbol of Islamic extremism.

She self-published a book of short biographies of 17 Muslims around the world in hopes of debunking stereotypes and biases. She also provided online commentary for CNN and Huffington Post, the latter of which came about in 2015 after she wrote an email directly to the website’s founder, Arianna Huffington.

The email described Majeed’s decision to start wearing a hijab as a high school freshman because she didn't think a woman's merit should be judged solely by physical beauty. It described how two years later, she ignored her classmates' stares while offering up Islamic prayers each morning on the school bus, The Baltimore Sun reported at the time.

"I want to transform myself into an idea," Majeed told The Sun in 2015. "I want to transform myself into this concept of liberty and equality. People die, but ideas don't. I want my ideas to live on long after I've left this world."

Baltimore Sun reporter Mary Carole McCauley and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

lireed@baltsun.com

twitter.com/LillianEReed

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