(AP) PALMYRA, N.J. Authorities say they planned to kill in the name of God. But the mosque where they worshipped maintains it only taught them about peace.
Now the Islamic Center of South Jersey, and many other Muslim institutions in the state, are trying to convince people that their religious teachings didn't play a role in an alleged plot to massacre soldiers at Fort Dix.
On Friday night, the mosque held a special meeting at which more than 100 people heard a message of peace and tolerance from the Islamic Center's leaders, as well as U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews, an FBI agent from Philadelphia and local leaders.
Three of the six men charged -- Dritan "Anthony" Duka, 28, and his brothers Shain, 26, and Eljvir, 23 -- worshipped at the mosque regularly. Eljvir Duka's brother-in-law, 22-year-old Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, also prayed at the Palmyra mosque occasionally.
But Ismail Badat, the chairman of the board of trustees for the mosque, maintains that if the young men were talking up extremist views, they weren't doing it at the Islamic Center.
"The people incarcerated prayed here. But they prayed here and nothing else," Badat told the Friday night gathering before explaining that his religious community was a peaceful one.
Jim May, 70, a former Palmyra councilman, had walked a few blocks from his home with his wife to sit in the diverse group gathered in the mosque. "It really means a lot that people are able to talk to one another," May said.
It's a message that many in New Jersey are trying to convey as the terror plot case spawns further recriminations against Muslims.
The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations held a news conference Friday morning to publicize the case of a Muslim woman from Passaic County who was on her way to do laundry last weekend in Little Falls when a male motorist stuck in traffic started screaming anti-Muslim slurs at her.
In a separate incident, a man was charged Tuesday with punching a Muslim woman in the nose after yelling anti-Muslim comments at her in Fairview.
"We hope our fellow citizens won't equate Islam with terrorism based on the actions of the defendants," said Afsheen Shamsi, a spokeswoman for the group, adding it appears likely both incidents were related to publicity over the Fort Dix case.
She also called on federal authorities to open a civil rights investigation of the incidents.
The three Duka brothers, Shnewer, and Serdar Tatar face life in prison if they are convicted of conspiring to kill military personnel; the sixth man, Agron Abdullahu, faces a weapons charge.
At the Islamic Center, Badat is happy to talk about his faith. But he says the attention the alleged plot has brought to his congregation is much more of a burden than other problems he has had to deal with, such as disputes over parking near the mosque.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Posted by Audrey Hudson at Saturday, May 19, 2007