Daniel Joseph Maldonado
edited by ‘Umm Uthmaan
“The next day I was blindfolded, ear plugged then ear muffed. I was shackled: hands chained to my waist and ankles shackled as well. For about a 24 hour flight I could not hear, see or touch anything…”
Daniel Joseph Maldonado, an American convert, was arrested by the Kenyan military in January 2007 and handed over the US authorities. In April he pleaded guilty to a charge of receiving training from a foreign terrorist organization. He was sentenced to ten years in June. In this exclusive first-hand account from his cell in Houston’s Federal Detention Centre he describes the circumstances around his migration to Somalia, the tragic death of his wife Umm Muhammad, his subsequent arrest in Kenya and imprisonment there and in the US.
In the name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful. Praise be to Allah, Please and Blessings be Upon Muhammad. Assalamu Alaikum wa Rahmahtullahi wa Barakatuhu.
Migration with Umm Muhammad (May Allah accept her):
Once my wife (may Allah accept her) and I found out that an Islamic State was established in Somalia, especially after the taking of Mogadishu, we decided to go and make Hijra (migration) from Egypt. Immediately we made plans and tried to sell everything in our apartment. After being offered about $7,000–$8000, Umm Muhammad (May Allah accept her) made such a beautiful statement. She said, “You know that everything (in the apartment) is worth more than that Daniel…But what Allah offers me is better!” So she gave away everything in the apartment to someone to distribute to the poor in a small village. If that wasn’t enough, we had about $2,800 cash after we had gotten tickets etc. She decided to give $2,000 to a close friend in deep debt, so as to reap as many blessings as possible for the trip ahead.
None of the above do I attribute to myself and Allah is a Witness over what I say. With only $800 we left for Somalia…Did that stop her? No, she still gave to those in need! To this day, I don’t even know half of the good she did. Such was her custom to keep it hidden.
Something worth mentioning, we ended up staying in the airport [at Dubai] for three days, waiting for a flight. What did Umm Muhammad say about going out in Dubai? She said, “I lived with poor people in Egypt; I am going to live with the poor in Somalia. Dubai will be a fitnah (trial)” Thus we slept in the airport. I can still see her (thinking back) nodding off while nursing the baby under her abaya (coat-like burqah) in secrecy.
She became extremely devout; everything about her changed for the better. Her faith was stronger than I have ever seen! She became so pious, and put all her trust in Allah to the point I felt I was no longer even on the same level as her…Not even close! While I was away from her and the children, I would try to call her and them as much as possible. We would constantly entertain Allah’s praise and express our deep love for one another. Her patience was truly amazing!
After the bombing of Mogadishu airport, I advised that she and the children leave to the South to meet me as soon as possible. I remember asking her, “Did you hear it [the bombing]?” She said, “Yes”. I asked, “Were you scared?” She simply said, “No”.
I met her and the children in a town between the area she had left and the area we would head to before she would leave the country. She had dirt all over her abaya from the difficult trip; her eyes were tired and weary. I approached her and said, “I swear, I have never seen you more beautiful than today!”
So we went further, South. We would stay in a house with many other families before we left (the next morning). After Fajr (the pre-dawn prayer), the sisters started preparing to evacuate. Umm Muhammad refused to go. After some talking to by me and others, she – while weeping – listened and prepared to leave.
Knowing that the Ethiopians were coming and the women were about to leave, she though that there was a great possibility I would be killed. So we had a nice, long beautiful talk as she prepared. We expressed our love and admiration for each other. She thanked me by saying: “You are the greatest teacher I have ever had! You are the only man who has stuck around in my life! (Her father and grandfather etc were never around for her. She grew up in a house of women.) You are a real man! I love you so much!” She was weeping. Then she said something that I will never forget:
“Forgive me…I could not ask Allah to make you a martyr. I love you too much to see you go… So I asked Him to make me a martyr instead!”
After much loving talk, the S.U.V. (off-road-vehicle) started to ride away. Her eyes watered while it pulled off… Seeing it was pulling off slowly by me, I said: “Peace be upon you oh women of Paradise, insha’Allah!” She asked why I said such. I said “If any women are the women of paradise, it is you, the women of the migrants.”
The S.U.V. pulled away and she recited a verse from Quran as they drove off... It was Eid. That would be the last [time] I would see my wife….May Allah accept my beloved and join me with her in Paradise with our children. Ameen.
Surviving in the Jungle
After my family had left to the border, I left with the brothers. To make a long story short, we were surrounded by helicopters attacking all units around us from mid-afternoon to maghrib (sunset). The next day we were ambushed…many died in that ambush…for those who survived along with me, we ended up wandering in the jungle with literally nothing to eat! Our water ran out as well…The following day we were so very thirsty, we would lick the dew of the leaves in the jungle! We would search for water for two days since our last drink. We would make du’a (supplication) for water while walking…We, after not finding water, reminded each other that we should seek forgiveness, for the one from sin will have his du’a answered. Sure enough, about a mile ahead was some water. I can remember all of us weeping and thanking Allah while prostrating. I can still hear one of them panting while saying “Allahul Kareem” (Allah is the Most Generous) over and over again. We would sit on the edge of this waterhole with a shell we’d found and use it as a cup. One would fill it and pass it to another who would pass it to another. There were to be many days like that…
For two weeks we did not eat at all except for one time at the very beginning of our wanderings. One day we came out to a Savannah area; it looked like something out of Lion King! We were careful, as helicopters were still in the sky and we were obviously being hunted by them. We would stay along the edge of the jungle area until we felt it was safe to actually go out into the long-grassed Savanna.
Suddenly one of the brothers caught a baby gazelle that seemed to just stand there, waiting for us. A brother took out a simple razor from his pocket. He pointed the animal towards the Qibla (direction towards Makkah) and we slaughtered it according to the noble shareeah (Islamic Law). We had one lighter (which later broke), a few packs of season that my wife had given me, and garlic that we used for antibiotics. We praised Allah and ate. After this we would not eat anything except leaves and an occasional snail for two weeks. Keeping our tongues wet with the remembrance of Allah did more for us than the occasional waterhole…and they were few. For those two weeks we would go a day, sometimes two, without water. We walked and walked, malnourished and thirsty. We became so malnourished that our skin began to feel tight around our ribs.
We came to another open area one day, but this one had much water. In fact, there was the jungle behind us and miles of shallow water in front of us. We needed to make it to the other end (where the jungle began again). We walked through this chest-high water from mid-afternoon to the next morning…It was extremely hard on us, seeing that we could not rest or sit down, because the water was chest-high! By the time we got out, it was almost Fajr time. I don’t think that I have ever been so cold in my life! I remembered that Umm Muhammad (may Allah accept her) had given me these packets that warm up when you open them. So I used them with the brothers. Strange, I remember asking her: “What in the world would I need hand-warming packets for in Africa?” She simply said: “You never know…”
A bit before this incident, I had a dream of her. (I didn’t know she had passed away). She was wearing a blue silk hijaab and her face was uncovered (she always appeared veiled outside). This hijaab stretched out as far as I could see. I had to climb up it! I then lay next to her, stared into her eyes and said: “I love you…” She replied “I love you 63 times.” To this day, I wonder about the meaning of that dream.
Some nights later, a brother told me that he had a dream about my family – although he had never met my wife. Mind you, I didn’t know about her death yet. He said that my wife was at a long white table that had such beautiful food on it. My children were running around playing. My wife then said to them, “Patience, patience he will be with us very soon.” In retrospect, I find these dreams to be amazing.
Arrest and Imprisonment in Kenya
So it is that we would, after thirsting and starving for two weeks, find a small village in Kenya. Being the villagers were Muslims, [some] spoke Arabic. They fed us and gave us water. I remember walking into the village with all the brothers and falling prostrate to Allah crying and thanking Him for what seemed like an hour!
We were brought to a Masjid (mosque) where we could finally rest. After getting bombed, shot at with bullets whizzing by my head, having friends die, starving and sleeping in ant and tic infested areas, I barely noticed a rat in the masjid crawling on my leg. “Akhee (brother), there’s a rat!” I brushed it off me like you would a fly; I was so exhausted.
Suddenly someone yelled out “Soldiers!” The Kenyan military stormed in, pulled us out, laid us on the ground and beat many of us. Then we were thrown half-naked onto a truck on top of each other, to be driven through the jungle to the next town, in the freezing cold night. Thrown out of the truck, we were pushed around, beaten some more, laughed at, humiliated and filmed, then thrown into a dark, dirty cell. Four walls and a bucket, that’s it. Suddenly I and a Yemeni brother started singing “Ghurabaa” (The Strangers). We even wept. That night we would be pushed around, beaten and interrogated by the Kenyan police.
The next morning, we were woken up to be cable-tied, blindfolded, mocked at and thrown into a truck that brought us to a helicopter. We were thrown off the truck onto the ground and put on the helicopter, then taken to an airport and put on a plane. The whole flight we were mocked and threatened whilst blindfolded and cable-tied. The brothers and I heard a sister on the plane with kids. One brother asked: “Are you okay, sister?” Suddenly one of the police or soldiers came around and said, “Shut up!” The he told her, “If you speak again, I will tape your eyes shut.” No one would utter a word throughout the whole flight to Nairobi…Wondering if I could sneak a peek to see what was going on, I noticed that the baby and the little girl were my daughters! Frantically, I would try to peer everywhere I could to see if my wife was seated close by. All I could think was: “Oh Allah! Where is she? She would never leave the baby with someone else. Where is our son Muhammad?”
After landing, I would be pulled off the plane with the others. I could not contain myself. I asked the sister while being pulled off, “Sister! Do you know my wife?” She quickly responded “Yes!” I asked where she was, and the sister replied “Your daughters are fine.” I exclaimed while being roughly pulled off: “My wife and my son?” She again stated: “Your daughters are fine; they are okay.”
[Note: More can read about this sister and her imprisonment alongside Daniel’s children in a report by Cageprisoners: http://www.cageprisoners.com/download.php?download=560 ]
I was thrown to the ground on my knees. I could hear cameras snapping and people around me. One man came and asked where I was from. After telling him, I said: “There is a woman on the plane who knows my wife. Is my family okay?” He left, then came back and said, “Your family is fine...”
The others and I were then shipped off to a prison barefoot, malnourished and extremely dirty. The cell was cramped with about twelve of us. It was very dirty, with just one bucket to share as a toilet. We would pass the time by praising and remembering Allah. I never made so much dhikr (remembrance) in my life. Every night, you could find each of us standing in prayer on and off – as if it were an intended rotation.
The police would constantly pull us out to interrogate us, one at a time, every other day or night. Many of us were threatened with death along with getting shipped back to Somalia and being handed to the Ethiopians! The days seemed to take forever…When we would ask about our embassies out of curiosity, they would quickly reply: “Your embassies know you are here. They don’t care about you.”
The Tragic News Regarding My Wife…
One day, while sitting on the cold hard floor, I mentioned my love for, and desire to see my wife and kids. I expressed my worry about the situation on the plane, although I was told all is well. One of the brothers stared at me and then stated that he needed to pray. I wondered; it was not prayer time. He finished and then told the brother next to me: “Tell him…” A tear rolled down my cheek… I knew now what they were about to disclose. I leaned closer to the brother, voice cracking, heart torn but hesitant until confirmation. “Tell me what?! What are you going to tell me?” I was crying.
He said, “We were told that an American woman with three children got sick and died on the way. They buried her as a martyr…I’m sorry brother…”
I immediately stood up, tears pouring like never before. My whole world felt as if it had ended! I paced the cell and then leaned on the wall crying, “Don’t, not here! Don’t tell me this here! No…no... Oh Allah, Oh Allah…” One of the older brothers embraced me and quietly repeated in Arabic: “Patience my brother…patience; it is from Allah.” I slumped down the wall on my back until I was seated. Tears in my eyes, I looked up and noticed everyone was crying with me. I asked about my son; no–one knew anything. I jumped up and yelled for the guard. He proudly came to the door. I said, “I found out just now that my wife has died. I need to know whether or not you have all of my kids.” He said, “How do you know that?!” He opened the door brandishing his night stick saying, “You better get away from this door and shut up before I crack your head open!”
The Hardest Test
The hardest part of this whole ordeal was losing my best friend, my wife, my beloved, my soul mate, the mother of my children. May Allah accept her, ameen. She once told me in Somalia that she never felt so close to Allah and that she wished for shahaadah (martyrdom). “Whoever wishes to meet Allah, Allah will wish to meet him.” It is known that whoever protects their life, property, family and religion and dies while doing so is a martyr. She died while doing all of the above! We know about the hadith (Prophetic tradition) about the one who dies of fever and sickness or plague. We all know about the one who migrates for Allah and dies doing such. I cannot think of a reason that she wouldn’t be shaheed (martyred). She got what she asked for: body not washed for burial [a martyr’s body is not washed for burial], buried in the land she loved and did not want to leave.
You know, this comes as no surprise, as I have never known Umm Muhammad (may Allah accept her) to raise her hands (in supplication) except that Allah gave her exactly what she asked for. For instance, after the birth of our son, the doctors said she would not be able to have children again, due to many complications. Praise be to Allah! She gave me two beautiful daughters – exactly what she wanted!
She was simple and extremely humble, never making people feel beneath her. She was not the scholarly type, but she practiced what she knew. If you could prove it from The Book (Quraan) and the Sunnah (Prophetic Way), she would not argue, but submit to the proofs. She feared Allah so much! I remember her telling me while crying as if she had lost a beloved one, that she committed a grave wrong when we first became Muslim. She explained that she feared she would never be forgiven. I asked her what it was.
She said that she once exclaimed “Jesus Christ!” when angry or surprised. I asked, “Were you calling upon him (in invocation)?” She cried, saying “No,” explaining that it was just something she grew up saying without meaning (as is common among many a Westerner). I laughed in admiration and told her not to worry, that she did nothing wrong, and the fact that she feared Allah so much that she worried over something that any new Muslim would do, made her even better! I truly miss her. May Allah accept her and reunite me with her and our children in Paradise, ameen.
Interrogated by the FBI
In the days after the news of my wife’s death I would be pulled out of my cell, blindfolded, shackled, ear muffed and a bag put over my head. I was put in a car and driven away. I could hardly breathe…all I could think was: “They are going to shoot me.” I believe I thought this because I could feel the road change from pavement to dirt. I figured: “Bag over my head, ear muffs, blindfold, dirt road, threats a day before…I’m dead.”
I just repeated the shahadatain (Islamic testimonies of faith) again and again. I would end up at a sort of safe house where the FBI would question me. It became increasingly obvious that someone had snitched on me, as they knew everything. But what bewildered me was that this “someone” had lied about a lot of things, unless that was just a tactic. Nonetheless, that misinformation was to later be in my paperwork, stating that they were given by a co-witness, a close associate of mine! The details of the few truths made it clear who did some of the talking. I understood then, that one of my beloved brothers had turned on me…I forgive those that did, as the conditions were unbearable. May Allah have Mercy on them.
Reunited with my Children
I was brought to another prison to stay at and was joined by my two daughters! I asked my four year old, while holding the baby, “What happened to Mommy?” She said in a soft, yet very hurt voice: “Mommy got hot with the fever…..She went to Allah…They put her in the ground….” I burst into tears and held her, telling her: “I’m sorry. Daddy’s sorry…” Then I asked her, “Where is your brother?” She paused and said, “He ran away into the jungle…he only has one sandal Daddy...” I asked the police if they had a little boy in custody. They replied in the negative…
That night I was put in a cell while my daughters were kept somewhere else. Perhaps they were with the woman whom they were arrested with or with female police officers across the street. I thanked Allah, praised him and asked Him for a miracle regarding my family being put together. I called on Him saying, “You are the One who gathers. Gather me and my family here!”
I later awoke to the sound of a voice at the reception desk. It was a familiar voice, a young boy explaining why he wasn’t in school. It was the voice of my son! I jumped up and yelled his name through the door. He ran past the police to the door crying, “Dad? Is that you?” They opened the door and he embraced me without any hesitation. We cried together in each other’s arms…The police asked me: “This is your son?” It became obvious that their bringing him to that police station was unintentional.
I asked Muhammad what had happened. He told me that his mother got sick and the brothers told him that they were taking her to the hospital. This was miles and miles deep in the jungle on the road to Kenya. They clearly said this not to upset him. Muhammad had been with the men bringing the women over the border. He told me that jets had attacked them and everyone fled. He said that he saw his “uncle” getting his stomach blown out.
He explained that he got down, and when they came again he ran into the trees. The brothers called out to him, but he couldn’t find them. He got lost in the jungle for two nights, surviving on berries and dirty water that he’d found. He would retrace his steps back to where they were camped. He told me that everything was black and burnt. Even the wheels on the car were melted.
Muhammad found his way to a village where “a man with a cow” took him in and fed him. Later this man handed him over to the Kenyan military. The next day, all my children were reunited with me, alhamdulillah!
I had to tell my son about his mother… I explained that I had something to tell him that will be difficult. He stood there awaiting this important news as if nothing was wrong. I said, “Your mother has left this world my son.” He said, “No dad, they took her to the hospital.” I told him: “Son, they said that to you so you wouldn’t get upset…I’m sorry; your mother died.” He looked at me weeping, and without a tear in his eye he looked towards the heavens and said, “Allah has willed it. InshaAllah I will see her in Paradise”
I could not believe how well he took it; how faithful a reply! I hugged him and said, “I’m sorry.” He told me, “It isn’t your fault Dad! You did the best you could do!” I am a 28 year old man who has been through a lot, and my heroes are a woman who has left this world and a nine year old boy…
Echoes of Guantanamo–Style Treatment
Eventually, my children and I were taken out of prison and put on a plane heading for America. I had to sign papers to temporarily grant custody to my parents seeing that I was “in quite a bit of trouble” – as the FBI agent put it. We landed at a military base where my children would be separated from me. The agents let us say our goodbyes. They assured me that my children would be taken good care of, and sent directly to my parents. They did keep to their word.
I would stay at that base for three days. After starving in the jungle and being imprisoned in Kenya, I felt like I was in a 5 star hotel!
The agents explained that I would be leaving the next day and that the people transporting me would be very strict. When these new agents came, they told me I would not be allowed to pray at all, or use the bathroom without the door being left open. I praise Allah! I made salatul khawf (the Fear Prayer) instead.
The next day I was blindfolded, ear plugged then ear muffed. I was shackled – hands chained to my waist and ankles shackled as well. For about a 24 hour flight I could not hear, see or touch anything… One could never imagine what that’s like until one experiences it for themselves.
To pray, I would sneak my hand to wipe the bottom of my shoe for the clean earth on it and make tayyamum (dry ablution using mud or dust) in order to do salatul khawf. I praise Allah! Never through this ordeal did I miss even one prayer. And this is of the benefits of knowledge, even if it is little.
Solitary Confinement and Conviction
We landed in Houston and I was immediately put in solitary confinement with literally no human contact at all. I have been here ever since. I pleaded guilty to “receiving training from a foreign terrorist organization” in order that the second charge of “conspiring to use an explosive device outside the United States” be dropped. That charge carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000. I have been sentenced to ten years in prison and fined $1000. If I stay out of trouble in prison, it will only be eight years. Since I am in a Federal prison, I cannot get parole. So the least I will do is eight years, unless some information comes up that could prove innocence etc. I never went to Somalia to fight. I wouldn’t have taken my wife and three small children into a war zone. The situation just erupted while we were there.
I pretty much sit in a cell with a bed, sink shower, toilet and desk for 23 hours a day. I eat and receive all of my “sanitary items” in my cell. I am only allowed outside for one hour a day, the only exceptions to that being Friday and Saturday. I spend my time reading Quraan or any other books on Islaam and doing dhikr (remembrance of Allah). We were put on this earth to worship Allah. As long as we are able to do that, we have all we need!
“What can my enemies do to me? My Paradise is in my heart; it goes with me wherever I am. If they kill me, it is martyrdom. If they exile me from my land, it is a vacation in the Path of Allah. If they imprison me, it is to allow me a private devotion with Allah” Sheikh–ul–Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah
Assalamu Alaikum wa Rahmahtullahi wa Barakatuhu.
Al Istiqamah: We ask all our readers to pray for a speedy release for Daniel, that he is re-united with his family and that he continues to remain firm upon his Deen (religion). May Allah accept Umm Muhammad’s death from malaria while protecting her life, wealth and family as martyrdom, ameen.