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Protest or Provocation?: New Jersey Muslims Urge FBI to Investigate Anti-Terrorism Messages Displayed in Front of Mosques

Protest or Provocation?: New Jersey Muslims Urge FBI to Investigate Anti-Terrorism Messages Displayed in Front of Mosques

  • A truck displaying digital imagery of the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai was seen at four different places of worship in the state on Nov. 26, the 14th anniversary of the terror attacks.

The Muslim community in Central New Jersey has reached out to the Attorney General’s office and the FBI to investigate the recent anti-terrorism messages at mosques in Middlesex County. A truck displaying digital imagery of the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai was seen at four different mosques on Nov. 26, the 14th anniversary of the terror attacks, which lasted for four days. More than 150 people were killed and hundreds of others were wounded. 

Ten members of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), an Islamist terrorist outfit from Pakistan, entered India’s financial capital via the Arabian Sea and carried out coordinated attacks in multiple locations across the financial capital of India. While nine of them were killed by the Indian security forces, Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist who was captured alive, was hanged four years later on Nov. 21, 2012.

The truck was first seen at the Muslim Center of Middlesex County (MCMC) in Piscataway. It entered MCMC’s parking lot from the property’s back entrance at approximately 1:30 p.m., according to the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ). In a video of the incident, posted on YouTube, the truck is seen circling the mosque premises with a rotating digital display. The truck also stopped outside the Muslim Community of New Jersey Masjid in Fords, the North Brunswick Islamic Center and Masjid Al-Wai in Edison.

One of the signs on the truck read: “Mumbai 26/11: We won’t forgive. We won’t forget.” Another read: “Men, women and children or elderly, no one was spared by LeT terrorists who entered India via sea on a boat.” 

While no one has come forward to take responsibility for deploying the trucks in front of the mosques, leaders and activists in the community say that the imagery on the truck was an attempt to link Muslims with the attacks in Mumbai, even though the community had nothing to do with it, and is a deliberate attempt to intimidate and demonize the community.

Minhaj Khan, former president of the New Jersey chapter of the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) told American Kahani that the community is fearful and angry, and is seeking answers. “These acts of intimidation by the Hindutva brigade must stop,” he said, adding that the community is hoping that “this sort of criminal action is heavily penalized.” He accused some factions of the community for “bringing their ideology of hate and divisiveness” to America. “Leave our community alone.” It “could be a mistake” to link this attack to an individual, he said. “These are censored efforts of organizations that believe in the Hindutva ideology.”

Last week, CAIR-NJ and MCMC members held a joint press conference in Piscataway to demand a response to the incident. “While everyone — even bigots — has the right to free speech, no one has the right to target religious minorities, especially at their houses of worship, with acts of perceived intimidation and harassment,” CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut said in a statement.

An initial police report was filed with the Piscataway and North Brunswick police departments. The Middlesex Prosecutor’s Office is currently investigating the incident to determine whether it’s a hate crime, a spokesperson told American Kahani, without providing additional information.

A handful of protestors who showed up before Pakistan consulate in New York City. (Photo, courtesy ANI/Twitter)

There are no details about who hired the truck owned by a Pennsylvania-based company. NBC New York reports that when the truck driver was approached by a man in North Brunswick, he told the man that he was just doing his job. American Kahani reached out to the company but has not heard back. 

To mark the 14th anniversary of the attacks, a handful of Indian Americans protested outside the Pakistani Consulate in New York, Nov. 26, The Press Trust of India reported. They held placards denouncing the attacks and demanding sanctions against Pakistan, and chanted “Vande Mataram” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai,” the report added. In some of the photos posted by news agency Asian News International (ANI) on social media, a truck displaying digital messages can be seen parked outside the consulate next to the protestors. It flashed images of 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed and terrorist Ajmal Kasab as well as images of the burning of Mumbai’s historic Taj Mahal Hotel. Similar demonstrations also took place in front of the Pakistan Consulate in Houston, Chicago & Pakistan Community Centre in New Jersey, the PTI report said. 

Significantly, the truck hired for the New York consulate protest and those that appeared before the mosques in New Jersey seem to belong to the same company based in Pennsylvania. 

The mosque incidents occurred three months after the Aug. 14 India Day parade held on Oak Tree Road, covering the townships of Woodbridge and Edison, which included a bulldozer, which symbolizes the demolition of Muslim properties in India. The bulldozer was decorated with photos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. A banner saying “Baba ka Bulldozer” was seen next to Adityanath’s photo. BJP national spokesperson Dr. Sambit Patra was the grand marshal of the parade.

“Central Jersey is a melting pot, especially the towns of Woodbridge, Edison and Piscataway, with a large South Asian community — Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis — who have lived together for decades,” Khan said. Now there’s a sentiment of fear and uncertainty, he added. “Despite bringing awareness after the bulldozer incident, the message didn’t get through.”

The Indian Business Association, the organizer of the parade apologized for the inclusion of the bulldozer. In a letter issued to Edison Mayor Samip “Sam” Joshi and Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac, IBA president Chandrakant Patel said the organization is sorry for “certain aspects” of the parade “that reflected poorly on our organization and offended the Indian American minority groups, especially Muslims, from the local area and across the state and country.” He continued by saying that “the parade should be and has always been about a celebration of our Indian heritage and inclusion and diversity among our many cultures and religions.”

However, Piscataway councilman Kapil K. Shah told American Kahani that the bulldozer incident and truck display at mosques are not connected. “There is no need to mix the two incidents,” he said, noting that the parade organizers have already issued an apology. But at the same time, he condemned the attack and stressed that there’s no room for hatred and religious bigotry in the township. As an elected official, he said he supported the Muslim community and stood by them. 

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Piscataway Mayor Brian C. Wahler and State Senator Bob Smith have also reiterated their support for the Muslim community in the town. Last week, they met with the leadership of the MCMC and the Piscataway Township Police Department as well as Assistant Township Attorney Raj Goomer to discuss the act of religious bigotry,” according to a Facebook post. 

Several politicians including Gov. Phil Murphy condemned the attack and called for an investigation. “Anti-Muslim intimidation tactics are utterly unacceptable and downright shameful,” Murphy tweeted. “ No one should have to fear being harassed at their place of worship or in their community.”

“Disgusted by this act of bigotry against NJ’s Muslim community,” tweeted Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J. He wrote that “New Jersey stands with our Muslim community and will always defend your right to worship freely and without fear of harassment and intimidation.”

In a statement sent to American Kahani, Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer and Shama Haider said they “stand with Muslim communities in Middlesex County who were met with violent images, intimidation, and harassment” and called for “a quick and thorough investigation into who is behind these acts.” Noting that “the people behind this stunt are driven by ignorance and bigotry,” they said, “this sort of hate has no place in New Jersey.”

On Dec. 11, the MCMC is hosting an interfaith solitary vigil to have dialogue and introduce them to Islam and the workings of the mosque, according to a flyer issued by the mosque. 

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The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
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