The trilling chant of the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, rang out Sunday afternoon at the humble little white house behind a green fence that is South Florida’s oldest mosque. Inside, a dozen men and one boy — shoes left outside as a cleansing gesture — quietly recited prayers and bowed to Mecca.
There was a single stark change in the ancient ritual this time — the longtime spiritual leader of Miami’s Flagler Mosque was not there to lead it.
Dozens of federal agents appeared at early Saturday morning prayer to arrest Hafiz Muhammad Sher Ali Khan, the frail 76-year-old imam, and two of his sons, one who led the Masjid Jamaat Al-Mumineen Mosque in Margate, on charges of funneling money to the Pakistani Taliban to buy weapons and support militant training. All three are scheduled to make a first appearance in federal court on Monday.
A day after the raids, members of the mosque as well as South Florida’s Muslim community remained stunned and concerned. Some fear ugly backlash. Nezar Hamze, executive director of the Council on America-Islamic Relations, said two hate calls had been directed at the Miami mosque and one at Margate mosque. For others, he said, the case – built largely on bank records and taped phone calls — rekindled the sense they’re being singled out for secret surveillance.
“The FBI has a very important job to do and we support it,’’ said Hamze. “However, their job sometimes crosses the line and interferes with the rights of peaceful Muslim people.’’
But in at least small ways, the South Florida arrests also signaled a subtle positive shift in dealings between federal law enforcement agencies and the Muslim-American community it has monitored closely since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The raids were conducted under new national rules of engagement intended to show more sensitivity toward religious practices and tamp down the flames of haters after a series of outreach meetings in South Florida this year among federal law enforcers and Muslim leaders.
When U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer and FBI John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Office, announced the arrests they both stressed that other mosque members and the rest of the community should not be branded by the alleged terrorist actions of a handful of its members. Ferrer, in a phone interview Sunday with The Herald, reiterated that message.
“They are as American as apple pie,’’ he said. “They are just as concerned about terrorist attacks as anyone else. They do not want to live in fear.’’
Ferrer said the outreach programs were initiated last year by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to address concerns over increasing tensions and hate crimes – including a pipebomb explosion last year at a Jacksonville mosque – and law enforcement tactics that some Muslim leaders have criticized as heavy-handed, including planting undercover agents in mosques.
Along with the outreach meetings, the U.S. Attorney’s Office earlier this month hosted a training session at Broward College in Davie for 65 federal, state and local agents and officers aimed at “at enhancing law enforcement officers’ cultural competence and sensitivity on issues involving the Arab, Muslim and Sikh American communities.’’ Ferrer said his message to Muslim leaders is that they should not feel isolated. “We want to make it very clear that we are their U.S. attorney, we are their Justice Department.’’
Asad Ba-Yunus, a former Miami-Dade assistant state attorney who now serves as legal adviser for the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organization, said the charges against the two imams and four others came as a “shock’’ but he praised the handling of the arrests.
After the heavily armed agents flooded the grounds of the Flagler Mosque, a small converted house in a modest neighborhood west of Milam Dairy Road and north of Flagler Drive, they waited for morning prayer to finish before arresting Khan outside.
“Instead of barging in with 25 agents and trampling all over the place, one agent took off his shoes and went in,’’ he said. “”They respected the congregation that was there.’’
After the arrest, agents informed other Muslim leaders before going public, Ba-Yunus said, so there was some lead time to prepare for media inquiries. Ba-Yunus saw those steps as progress stemming from meetings with federal authorities.
Still, despite the kinder, gentler arrests, Muslim leaders say many in the community remain wary of federal authorities, their suspicions fueled by cases like one last year in Irvine, Cal., where a confidential informant’s mission backfired. Mosque members, alarmed about his calls for violence, tried to turn him into authorities.
Ba-Yanus said most Muslims presume their mosques have been infiltrated and, at a meeting with the FBI, he argued that building trust with honest community leaders would provide more reliable information. For many Muslims, Hamze said, simply voicing a political opinion against U.S. occupation of a country or a trip to the Mideast can trigger a visit from federal agents – a practice he said put up barriers to better cooperation.
As for allegations against Hafiz Kahn and others, Ba-Yanus and Hamze condemned any support of terrorism but said they wanted to see the evidence before passing judgment. In reading quotes from phone calls in the indictment, Hamze wondered if conversations had been misconstrued and “something had been lost in the translation.’’
Khan’s 19-year-old grandson, Alam Zeb, accused of collecting and distributing money sent from the U.S. to the Pakistani Taliban, on Sunday denied the charges against him and his family."It is baseless,’’ Zeb told The Associated Press in Sarsnai, a village in Pakistan’s Swat Valley where the elder Khan used to live and established a madrassa, or Islamic school.
The ATF could have arrested David Koresh during anyo of his moring jogs, but they just had to threat Christians lcontemputously. Apparently Muslims get special treatment.
Yet instead, CAIR huffed in a statement that “infiltrating mainstream mosques the way FBI informants infiltrate white supremacist groups illustrates the FBI’s perception of American Muslims as a community that must be constantly monitored, instead of being treated as an equal partner in fighting crime and terrorism.”
An undercover survey of more than 100 mosques and Islamic schools in America has exposed widespread radicalism, including the alarming finding that 3 in 4 Islamic centers are hotbeds of anti-Western extremism, WND has learned.
The Mapping Sharia in America Project, sponsored by the Washington-based Center for Security Policy, has trained former counterintelligence and counterterrorism agents from the FBI, CIA and U.S. military, who are skilled in Arabic and Urdu to conduct undercover reconnaissance at some 2,300 mosques and Islamic centers and schools across the country.
"So far of 100 mapped, 75 should be on a watchlist," an official familiar with the project said.Many of the Islamic centers are operating under the auspices of the Saudi Arabian government and U.S. front groups for the radical Muslim Brotherhood based in Egypt.
Frank Gaffney, a former Pentagon official who runs the Center for Security Policy, says the results of the survey have not yet been published. But he confirmed that "the vast majority" are inciting insurrection and jihad through sermons by Saudi-trained imams and anti-Western literature, videos and textbooks.
Just ask Anwar Al Awlaki. No one in his mosques volunteered to report him. No one reported Nidal Hassan or the 9/11 hijackers that attended U.S. mosques.