Arab-Americans report threats in wake of attacks

Wednesday September 12, 2001

By Erica Werner  

Associated Press Writer 


LOS ANGELES – Arab- and Muslim-American groups in California reported threats and outbursts of hatred on Tuesday in response to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. 

“We have been receiving very intense threats on our answering machines at our offices,” said Michel Shehadeh, West Coast regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “It’s from people we don’t know. They don’t know who we are. They just targeted us because we are an American-Arab organization, and that is the scary part. 

“We feel very vulnerable right now.” 

California is home to an estimated 750,000 to 1 million Arab-Americans, more than any other state, though Michigan has a higher concentration, Arab-American groups say. There are 5 million to 6 million Arab-Americans in the country. 

No one claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Bush administration officials said Saudi exile Osama bin Laden was their top suspect. Arab- and Muslim-American groups in California unanimously condemned the attacks, but feared they would be targeted in reprisal. 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations says more than 200 Arab- and Muslim-Americans were victimized after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by Army veteran Timothy McVeigh. 

Shehadeh said his group had received dozens of messages containing death threats, obscenities and racial slurs. The Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, the Islamic Networks Group in San Jose and other groups reported similar calls. 

Gov. Gray Davis cautioned against such a response, saying, “We do not want Americans turning on Americans. We do not want reprisals within our borders.” 

FBI spokesman Matthew McLaughlin said the agency was not investigating any specific incidents but that threats against the Arab-American community had been foreseen. 

Southern California’s oldest mosque, the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles, shut its doors Tuesday morning for everything but prayers and requested police protection. 

The center also closed its four elementary and middle schools in Southern California, sending 500 students home until Thursday at the earliest, said Omar Ricci, spokesman for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. 

“We don’t know what’s going to happen. It may be under the cover of darkness that someone’s going to try and come and do something,” Ricci said. 

In Northern California, Santa Clara County officials were investigating a series of threats against a Pakistani market, said Jim McEntee, director of human relations. 

The Arab-American Congress of Silicon Valley condemned the attacks in a statement and called for a swift government response. 

“Finally, the Arab-American Congress of Silicon Valley is calling upon all media to please refrain from speculation about who may be responsible, and to remind their audiences that the victims of today’s action, in all likelihood, include Americans of Arab descent,” the statement said.