Friends used the words "polite" and "quiet" to describe the San Diego man named in a series of indictments tying U.S. citizens to a Somalia-based terrorist organization.
Jehad Serwan Mostafa is one of 14 suspects in Minnesota, California and Alabama to face charges for supporting al-Shabab, a Somali insurgent faction that includes several thousand fighters.
Mostafa, unlike other suspects named in indictments released Thursday, is not Somali and faces additional charges of fighting alongside the terrorist group. In fact, the former auto repair shop worker with red hair, is believed to be in Somalia right now.
One woman who asked not to be identified, told NBCSanDiego said she knew Mostafa from the time he worked the front desk at an auto shop on El Cajon Blvd.
"He was the exact opposite of what you'd think of a terrorist. Very kind, very peaceful, very patient. not scary or aggressive,” said the woman who asked not to be identified. “Very friendly to me as a woman. Some mechanics there wouldn't talk to me because I was a woman, but he did.”
"I thought he was a progressive, peace keeping Muslim,” she said. “He told me Islam is a religion of peace and love.”
Mostafa told the woman that he was a UCSD student.
When she heard the news, she thought "'Oh my God. That's hard to believe.' He had no accent. He was a white kid with red hair,” the woman said.
Mostafa’s face is a familiar one to the Imam Abdeljalil Mezgouri, director at the Islamic Center of San Diego in Kearny Mesa.
“I know him. He’s a good kid. You cannot tell,” said Mezgouri. “He was a very quiet person.”
According to Mezgouri, Mostafa’s family is known and very respected in the community. Mostafa’s father prays at the mosque and his mother is a teacher. “I don’t know what their reaction is,” he said.
In his ten years at the mosque, Mezgouri said he’s been working with young people, trying to educate them about avoiding groups who may prey on their frustrations.
He said it’s a phenomenon that needs to be studied to be understood.
“I wish I could ask him this question and ask him why,” Mezgouri said. “I don’t think it’s going to be one factor for sure. “
Both Mezfouri and the woman who knew Mostafa while he lived in San Diego recall a wedding but neither could remember a date of the ceremony or the woman Mostafa married.
Prosecutors unsealed an October 2009 indictment against the 28-year old Mostafa Thursday. The indictment alleges Mostafa not only conspired to provide material support to al-Shabab but also fought alongside the terrorist group.
Mostafa, aka "Ahmed," "Emir Anwar," "Awar," is a U.S. citizen and former resident of San Diego. He is not in custody and is currently believed to be in Somalia. He faces a potential 15 years in prison for each of the three counts of the indictment.
Prosecutor William Cole said he cannot discuss the suspect's ethic background, but the director of the the Somali Family Service agency on University Avenue said it's obvious from the FBI wanted photo that the light-skinned Mostafa is not a Somali.
Ahmed Sahid also said the suspect's full name -- Jehad Serwan Mostafa -- is not a Somali name.
Sahid said San Diego's Somali community renounces terrorism and violence, and embraces a peaceful message of Islam.
Sahid said there are about 15,000 Somali immigrants in San Diego. Many of them live in City Heights, along University Avenue.
Prosecutor William Cole said the suspect lived in San Diego "a long time" and attended college here. Cole said Mostafa left San Diego in approximately December, 2005.
He was indicted by a grand jury in February, 2009, but that indictment, was kept secret until Thursday, when the Justice Department unsealed a series of indictments across the nation.
Al-Shabab is a Somali insurgent faction that embraced a radical form of Islam similar to the harsh, conservative brand practiced by Afghanistan's Taliban regime. Its fighters, numbering several thousand strong, have been battling Somalia's weakened government and have been branded a terrorist group by the U.S. and other Western countries.
The federal government designated al-Shabab a foreign terrorist organization in March 2008, and said it has ties to al-Qaida.
Al-Shabab last month claimed twin bombings in Uganda that killed 76 during the World Cup final, the group's first international attack.
An American with ties to a San Diego-based charity was killed in one of those bombings.
Nate Henn, 25, a native of Wilmington, Del., was a full time volunteer who had spent the last year and a half dedicating his time to the aid organization, Invisible Children, helping child soldiers.
Henn was at a rugby club in Kampala, Uganda, sitting in a field packed with people watching the game between the Netherlands and Spain Sunday when he was killed by one of two explosions.
Uganda and Burundi both have peacekeeping forces in Mogadishu, and al-Shabab has vowed to continue attacks against the two countries.