What's in a Name?

Qusair Mohamedbhai just wanted to open a bank account. Instead, he was labeled a terrorist.

Dan Heidel met Qusair Mohamedbhai while waiting for the bus. Every weekday morning, Heidel would walk from his apartment to the stop at Ninth and Downing, then catch the #12 bus to the Brown Palace Hotel, where he worked as an assistant comptroller. It was his routine: He knew the people who rode his bus, knew the faces of those who hung out at Diedrich Coffee by the stop, knew the crowd that frequented the area. So when Mohamedbhai showed up at the stop in the summer of 2003, dressed in nice clothes and looking utterly confused, Heidel offered to help the stranger.

"You could tell he was getting ready to go to work," Heidel recalls. "And he had this where-do-I-go-what-do-I-do look on his face. He asked me where the bus went, and when I realized he was going the same way as me, I helped him out, made sure he got to his stop and everything. It was the friendly, neighborly thing to do."

When Heidel saw Mohamedbhai again the next morning, the two struck up a conversation. Heidel learned that Mohamedbhai was a law student at the University of Wyoming who was originally from Edmonton, Alberta, and had a summer internship at the firm of Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison and Lewis. He didn't know many people in Denver and was crashing on the couch of a Wyoming professor who had an apartment in Capitol Hill.

"We became acquaintances," Heidel says. "I got to know a lot about him, what he was doing here, his internship. We traded numbers and would grab a drink every once in a while. He liked to do trivia night at Govn'rs Park. We got to be pretty good friends. Not bosom buddies or anything, but good friends."

"We would just shoot the shit about his life and my life," Mohamedbhai remembers. "We were at the same bus stop every day at the same time. I had his number in my cell phone. He became a friend."

The two kept in touch after Mohamedbhai returned to Laramie for his final year of law school, calling each other occasionally just to check in. After Mohamedbhai graduated and passed the bar both in Wyoming and Colorado, he moved back to Denver to take a job with the firm where he'd interned the previous summer, and he and Heidel quickly resumed their friendship.

Then on June 16, 2004, Heidel learned that Qusair Mohamedbhai was not the mild-mannered, hockey-loving buddy he'd thought, but a terrorist.


The local branch of the National Association of Credit Management, a group devoted to developing better credit practices and methods through industry-specific meetings, was hosting a meeting devoted to check fraud in the hotel industry, and Heidel had been invited to attend by the credit manager of the Brown Palace, Annmarie Pullano. The featured speaker was Genevieve Babcock-Elder, who'd worked at First National Bank of Denver for thirty years before opening Colorado Cheque Connection, a business specializing in background checks, new account inquiries and collections for financial institutions across the country.

Heidel listened as Babcock-Elder shared many anecdotes from her long career, including tales of income-tax scams and a mother-daughter check-fraud operation. And then she turned her attention toward thwarting terrorism.

"She had this black leather portfolio, and from where I was sitting, I could see inside it and see that it was a printout from a computer," Heidel recalls. "She said, 'Let me spell this person's name.' She then spelled the last name Mohamedbhai, and I was a little taken aback but I figured it might be a common name, and then she spelled the first name, Qusair, and I was pretty certain that I knew who this person was, and that it was my friend Q."

As Babcock-Elder continued, the evidence grew.

"The story went on to say how this person went into a Commercial Federal Bank in southeast Denver and tried to open an account. And that made sense. I knew Q was moving into that area, knew he would probably be looking for a bank," Heidel says. "And she kept using the word 'terrorist.'"

The suspected terrorist's Social Security number was from Florida, where terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks had learned to fly. Mohamedbhai had spent a year at the Florida Coastal School of Law before transferring to Wyoming. And other details lined up. Babcock-Elder said the man had lived in Canada and had presented a Wyoming student ID at the bank. A pretty blonde had been at his side -- a tactic terrorists sometimes employ to look more innocuous. Mohamedbhai was seeing a blond woman at the time.

By the time Babcock-Elder said that she'd stopped the terrorist from opening an account -- getting on the phone herself after performing a background check and informing him that she knew he'd committed bank fraud at the same institution eight years earlier -- Heidel was absolutely convinced.

"I was sitting there quite stunned," he recalls. "I was thinking that this friend who knows me, knows my life, is a terrorist. And she was calling him a murderer, a thief and all these awful things, and I didn't know what to do. The meeting was running well over its scheduled time and I needed to leave, so when she started in with another story, I excused myself and left. I walked up the 16th Street Mall back to work instead of taking the shuttle, and I stewed for a bit. I had a lot on my mind."

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