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Mosque Officials Detained in New Jersey

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    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 13, 2006
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      Elizabeth Llorente, The Record, 4/11/06

      Top officials of the Darul Islah mosque in Teaneck allege that
      Triborough Bridge police unjustly detained them Sunday morning after
      stopping the driver for reportedly speeding.

      They say the police overreacted – dispatching five patrol cars and
      lining the driver, Syed Haszari, and his five passengers along the
      side of the road in handcuffs, before releasing them about an hour
      later without explanation. They charge that it happened because they
      are Muslims.

      New York transportation officials defended their handling of the incident.

      "Mr. Haszari was caught speeding at 70 miles an hour, and the speed
      limit there is 40," said Catherine Sweeney, spokeswoman for the
      Metropolitan Transportation Authority Bridges and Tunnels. "All proper
      procedures were followed."

      But the men told a different story. They say police indicated that
      when Haszari's name was run through the computer, it prompted an
      alert. They have asked for a meeting with New Jersey Attorney General
      Zulima Farber to determine why they are being targeted.

      "They saw six men with beards in a car, early in the morning, three of
      them had prayer caps, and they thought, 'There go Osama bin Laden's
      people,' " said Waheed Khalid, a mosque spokesman who was not involved
      in the incident. "This is clearly a matter of profiling; the speeding
      charge is just something they cooked up, I believe.

      "We want to know why his name was flagged in the computer," Khalid
      said. "This has happened to Muslims and Arabs, their names are put on
      'watch lists.' And then they are treated like criminals, in this case,
      during a routine traffic stop. It is inexcusable."

      Sweeney declined to talk further about the incident or comment about
      the men's accounts.

      After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the FBI compiled a watch list of
      people deemed national security risks. Muslim and Arab leaders have
      complained that the watch lists lead to profiling of their
      communities. People whose names have appeared on watch lists have been
      detained at places such as airports, and sometimes prevented from
      boarding flights. Often, they are released without charges.

      The mosque officials said they were heading to Queens for breakfast
      after morning prayers and had just paid the toll when a Triborough
      Bridge and Tunnel Authority police car pulled up behind them, its
      lights flashing.

      Haszari, who was driving a silver minivan, said that after he stopped,
      an officer walked up to him and asked him to produce identification.

      "He said he clocked me going at 70 miles per hour down the highway,"
      said Haszari, an engineer and a member of the mosque's board. "I told
      him I didn't mean to speed."

      Haszari said the police officer took his license and returned to his
      patrol car, where he stayed "for about 15 or 20 minutes."

      The police officer returned to Haszari and told him a computer check
      of his name raised concern. He said the police officer asked him for
      his Social Security number, and then asked the five passengers in the
      car to produce identification.

      "I asked him if he was profiling me because I had a beard and a
      skullcap," Haszari said during an interview at the mosque. "He said he
      was not profiling."

      Iqbal Khan, a Paramus resident and general secretary of the mosque,
      said he began to have a sinking feeling about his fate and that of his
      fellow congregants.

      "It's the kind of thing, this singling out of Muslims after Sept. 11,
      that I've read about and seen on TV, but that I had never personally
      experienced," he said. "Now I felt that it was happening to me."

      Arsalan Gilani, a Teaneck resident, said that he, too, was frightened.

      "I felt like they could throw any charge at us," he said.

      The men said they were handcuffed and taken to a TBTA station at
      Manhattan Plaza, one of two service buildings near the bridge.
      Haszari's van was removed from the bridge by a TBTA tow truck, they
      said. They said they saw police search it before it was towed away,
      but police would not comment on that accusation.

      "That is a clear violation," Khalid said. "They just can't search a
      vehicle like that, not after a routine speeding stop."

      The men said they spent about a half hour at the station as Haszari
      answered a series of questions about his immigration status,
      employment and other personal information.

      "I am a neurosurgeon. I pay my taxes. I have never even gotten as much
      as a speeding ticket in my life," said Mohammad F. Padela, the mosque
      president. "I was disgusted and angry. There we were, handcuffed and
      made to stand on this highway, and people passed by and stared at us
      like we were criminals. Even some members of our mosque who were
      driving by there at the time saw us in handcuffs and called our imam."

      The men said they were released about 8:30 a.m. – roughly 90 minutes
      after they were first pulled over – without any charges, an apology or
      an explanation.

      "They actually seemed apologetic, and a little awkward, afterward,"
      Haszari said, as the others nodded. "The officer who had pulled me
      over even offered to help me at the courthouse with the speeding
      ticket, he said he'd tell the judge that I was nice and cooperative."

      E-mail: llorente @ northjersey.com



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