Muslims fear retaliation from New York bombing

March 08, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

JERSEY CITY -- The bits of metal pipe that shattered the zTC windows of the modest third-floor mosque didn't really worry Ahmet Moustafa.

He expected that much after the news about the bombing in New York City.

What troubles Mr. Moustafa, who belongs to the same mosque as Mohammed Salameh, a suspect in the World Trade Center bombing, is a premonition of far more serious violence against the mosque and Muslims like himself.

"We just want to be treated fairly," said the Egyptian-born businessman, whose small office sits a floor below the mosque. "The news media just wants to show that Muslim people are bad people who want to destroy the United States."

Much to Mr. Moustafa's frustration, the investigation of the bombing continued to swirl yesterday around the mosque, where prayer services also are offered by Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, a 54-year-old blind imam, who is a leader of Islamic fundamentalists in Egypt.

Police were prepared for any problems during a brief vigil by Jewish protesters outside the mosque, and investigators were hoping, according to news reports, to talk with Mr. Abdel-Rahman, who lives in Jersey City.

Standing outside the mosque on Jersey City's bustling Kennedy Boulevard, the Jewish demonstrators insisted that they were not accusing all Muslims. But they made clear their feelings that this mosque is a danger.

"We are here to condemn this place and this mosque," declared Rabbi Avi Weiss, who also issued a statement saying the mosque "could well be ground zero of Islamic extremist terror in the New York area."

"We are warning America that this extremist terror has to be rooted out at its source," said Rabbi Weiss, who described himself as a leader of the Coalition of Jewish Concerns.

He said the mosque was also home for El Sayyid Nossair, the Egyptian now in prison on weapons charges in the assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the militant Israeli activist.

As Rabbi Weiss argued that the U.S. government should have heeded Israeli intelligence warnings of Arab terrorism coming to the United States, his followers held up signs, one of which read, "Tel Aviv yesterday. New York today. USA tomorrow."

Drawn by the flag-carrying protesters, a crowd of Arabs from the surrounding Arab community gathered on the street. They told reporters they felt they were being stereotyped by the news media as a result of the bombing, and wrongly blamed for one's man's possible actions.

Asked about Mr. Abdel-Rahman, most of them defended him, but Moustafa Abdel Adem, who came to the United States six years ago from Egypt, strongly disagreed. "He is a bad man," he said in Arabic; a furious argument followed with several men and women in the crowd.

Indeed, to the members of the Salam mosque, which is no more than a small room with walls painted green, Sheik Omar, as they call him, is not an extremist, but a man who preaches strict adherence to the Koran, Islam's holy text.

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