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Brown University student mistakenly identified as Sri Lanka bombing suspect

Mourners lit candles Sunday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, one week after a series of deadly blasts in churches and luxury hotels there.
Mourners lit candles Sunday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, one week after a series of deadly blasts in churches and luxury hotels there.(Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

A Brown University senior and Muslim activist awoke Thursday to a shocking case of mistaken identity — Sri Lankan authorities had erroneously included her photo among images of the suspects sought in the Easter bombings that killed more than 250.

Amara K. Majeed grew up in Baltimore, the daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants, according to the Baltimore Sun, and became an activist at 16 when she founded The Hijab Project, which promotes cross-cultural understanding by encouraging women and girls to try out the head scarf worn by some Muslim women as an act of modesty.

On Thursday, Majeed’s photo appeared on an alert next to the name Fathima Qadiya, who is a suspect in the terrorist bombings. Police issued a statement acknowledging the error, and officials later blamed a small team of investigators that mistakenly found Majeed’s photo using facial recognition software.

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But for Majeed, the damage was done.

“On the morning of April 25, in the midst of finals season, I woke up in my dorm room to 35 missed calls, all frantically informing me that I had been falsely identified as one of the terrorists involved in the recent Easter attacks in my beloved motherland, Sri Lanka,” Majeed said Friday in a news conference hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“I received so many death threats because of this horrible mistake,” she said later. “So many people just calling for me to be hanged.”

Majeed could not be reached for comment.

Brown University released a brief statement in support of Majeed.

“The Sri Lanka Police have now corrected a misidentification of a Brown University student as being connected to the attacks in Sri Lanka. Our focus is on supporting our student,” Brown said.

For Majeed, whose extended family lives in the South Asian island nation and who has visited there many times, the error was deeply personal, she said.

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“There are no words to describe the pain of being associated with such heinous attacks on my own native homeland and people,” Majeed said. “The pictures and posts falsely implicating me have compromised my family’s peace of mind and endangered our extended family’s lives.”

Majeed said it had been a “horrible, horrible experience” for her relatives in Sri Lanka, all closely monitoring media reports on the bombings, to see her photo in news broadcasts.

“It was just a very horrifying experience, and it’s just really disrupted my life and my family’s life in so many different ways,” she said. “I’m just very concerned about the safety of my family, both here in the States and also back home.”


Material from the New York Times was used in this report. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.