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A profession of peace by 4 suspects' mosque

Authorities say the men planned to kill in the name of God. But the Palmyra mosque where they worshiped maintains it taught them only about peace.

Authorities say the men planned to kill in the name of God. But the Palmyra mosque where they worshiped maintains it taught them only 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.

Last 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. Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), 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 - worshiped at the mosque regularly. Eljvir Duka's brother-in-law, 22-year-old Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, also accused, prayed at the Palmyra mosque occasionally.

Ismail Badat, chairman of the mosque's board of trustees, maintained 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 gathering before explaining that his religious community was a peaceful one.

Jim May, 70, a former Palmyra councilman, walked with his wife a few blocks to the mosque from his home. "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 spawns recriminations against Muslims.

The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations held a news conference yesterday 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 that both incidents were related to publicity over the Fort Dix case.

She also called on federal authorities to open a civil-rights investigation into 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 a burden.

"Day in and day out, it keeps holding you all the time," he said. "You can't get rid of it."

In 1993, his congregation - which comes from mostly affluent communities, such as Cherry Hill, Voorhees and Mount Laurel - bought an old church-turned-senior-center in the blue-collar community of Palmyra.

It was the first large mosque in South Jersey, although now there are several and more are planned.

Chris Jones, 40, an Air National Guard tech sergeant and area police officer who recently returned from Kuwait, lives a few doors from the Islamic Center. He was not at last night's meeting, but standing in his front yard as the event emptied out, he said he thought those who worship at the mosque were decent people.

"When people here say 'Hi' to people walking over there, they say 'Hi' back," Jones said.