FBI Counterterror Agent Visits N.Y. Mosque
NEW YORK (AP) _ The burly FBI agent in the pinstriped suit stepped to the front of the mosque and looked out over a sea of Pakistani men in white kufi caps and women in brightly colored headscarves.
``A-salaam aleikum,″ said Charles Frahm, special agent-in-charge of the FBI’s New York counterterrorism division. ``It’s a great honor to be here today in the capacity of a friend.″
Frahm has become a frequent presence in the mosques and social clubs of New York’s Arab and Muslim neighborhoods, trying to ease tensions where law-enforcement scrutiny has spawned some anger and much anxiety. On Friday, he joined leaders of the nation’s largest Pakistani community in a declaration of mutual respect and abhorrence of terrorism in the wake of the London terror attacks.
Pakistani New Yorkers have reported increased pressure from law-enforcement since three young men of Pakistani descent helped carry out the July 7 bombings of London’s transit system. Concerned calls about FBI requests for interviews have doubled, from about two a week, since the London attacks, said Faiza Ali, civil rights coordinator for the New York office of the Council of American-Islamic Relations.
``Our youth need the correct message,″ Frahm told dozens of Pakistani immigrants seated on the carpeted floor of the Makki Masjid in Brooklyn. ``Islam does not accept terrorism. It is not a cornerstone of your religion.″
After Frahm’s brief address to worshippers and a crowd of invited journalists, Imam Hafiz Sabir and the leaders of several Pakistani community groups denounced the London attacks and said their once-strained relations with the FBI were improving.
``There is no room in Islam for this kind of act,″ Sabir said.
Reacting to the London attacks, the FBI asked to visit the mosque to request cooperation and express its willingness to hear complaints, said Timothy Herlocker, assistant special agent-in-charge of the counterterrorism division’s office of intelligence.
``I wanted to get out to the Pakistani mosque really quickly to say, ’We’re here, we’re standing with you,‴ Herlocker said. ``The leadership needs to be able to trust us, to come to us if there’s a problem.″
Many Muslim New Yorkers still feel treated unfairly by the FBI, immigration agents and police since the Sept. 11 attacks, said Wissam Nasr, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations’ New York office. Many don’t yet feel ready to share as much information as the government might like.
But tensions are easing, Nasr said. And events like Friday’s meeting, while admittedly more press conference than true exchange of information, help contribute to warmer relations.
``Our best defense in this so-called war on terrorism, which many people feel is unfair, is public relations,″ Nasr said. ``We’re beginning to break the ice.″