Authorities' description of six suspects charged with plotting an attack on Fort Dix as "Islamic militants" is causing renewed worry in New Jersey's Muslim community.
Hundreds of Muslim men from New Jersey were rounded up and detained by authorities in the months following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but none was connected to that plot.
Now, Muslims fear a resurgence of anti-Islamic sentiment and incidents of bias.
"If these people did something, then they deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law," said Sohail Mohammed, a lawyer who represented scores of detainees after the 2001 attacks. "But when the government says 'Islamic militants,' it sends a message to the public that Islam and militancy are synonymous. Don't equate actions with religion."
On Sunday, Cherry Hill – home to four of the accused men – broke ground for its first mosque.
The Indian Muslim Dawoodi Bohra sect, which is building the Anjuman-E-Fakhri mosque on a site near Perina Boulevard, was quick to distance itself from the alleged plotters, who do not belong to their local community of 60.
"People who harbor the intentions of hurting other people should be condemned by Islam, at least in our view," Quresh Dahodwala, an official of the Dawoodi Bohra community, said yesterday. "Islam does not support such barbaric acts."
Dahodwala was also co-signer of a statement by the Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue of Southern New Jersey, which said it strongly condemned the alleged planned attacks.
"We, Christians, Muslims and Jews, believe that anyone who would seek to attack or kill innocents in the name of their faith violates the values and beliefs of that faith," the statement read.
At Sunday's groundbreaking ceremony, State Sen. John Adler (D., Cherry Hill) called Cherry Hill "a place of peace and tolerance."
Dahodwala yesterday defended the town and Islam, saying that the alleged plot was not a reflection on either. "Bad people are everywhere," he said.
Yaser El-Menshawy, chairman of the Majlis Ash-Shura of New Jersey, the state's council of mosques, condemned the plot and said he was glad that it was not carried out. But he said the motivation of people who plot against the government "cannot be stopped simply by law enforcement or military means alone."
He said U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, among other issues, needs to be examined dispassionately.
"We are going to have to take a look at it and see where we are right and where we are not right," El-Menshawy said. "If that's not the case, then I fear we are in for a very long and difficult period."