When Dr. Hafiz Rehman of Bay Shore wanted to launch a humanitarian project in his native Kenya a few years ago, he turned to his best childhood friend, Anjum Chaudry, who still was living there.
Now, Rehman and Chaudry's relatives who live on Long Island are mourning him. Chaudry, 65, a telecommunications executive, was among the scores of people killed in the terrorist attack in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
"It's a shame that such a nice life was cut short in such a tragic way," said Rehman, who attended nursery school through high school with Chaudry, remained a close friend and was related to him through a family marriage. "It's a big loss and disbelief for us."
Chaudry's sister, Shahina Chaudry of Port Jefferson, flew to Kenya with her daughter, Neelofer, immediately after it was confirmed that Anjum Chaudry had been killed in the attack that began Sept. 21. The siege lasted for days while Kenyan security forces battled the terrorists. At least 67 people were killed.
In an email message Tuesday from Kenya, Shahina Chaudry said: "The outpouring of support this past week from all that Anjum came into contact with has been extremely heartwarming. He had an amazing ability to have a deeply personal and meaningful relationship with anyone he crossed paths with."
She is remaining in the country indefinitely to attend memorial services and help relatives cope with the loss.
Her son, Saqib Chaudry, 33, also of Port Jefferson, said Anjum Chaudry was like "a second father" to him. Saqib, who has spent many summers in Kenya, said his uncle taught him to play golf and shared his passion for the music of performers such as the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.
"He was a really gentle, kind soul," Saqib Chaudry said.
The family remained glued to news reports the day of the attack as they gathered in their Port Jefferson home. They thought Anjum Chaudry was out playing golf. But they learned he wasn't, and then got news from relatives in Kenya that he had been seen in the mall.
By the next day, they received word that his body had been taken to a morgue. A Muslim, he was buried quickly the following day, as his faith requires.
Rehman, a pediatrician in Bay Shore and a leader of the local Masjid Darul Quran mosque, recalled how he contacted Anjum Chaudry years ago to ask for help in launching a project to assist refugees from Somalia living in Kenya. Chaudry told him of a location in the desert, where about 1,000 families had been all but abandoned.
Today, the nonprofit Foundation of the Faithful, Education and Relief that Rehman and others created is running an orphanage and school for the refugees, called the Benane Rehma Academy. Anjum Chaudry continued to help fund the project.
"He was the brain behind this place," Rehman said.