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BY JACKSON CHEN
Worshipers and neighbors refused to be cowed after a local mosque received a chilling threat last week promising a “massacre … on a scale never seen.”
Masjid Manhattan, the mosque at 30 Cliff Street, received a letter on June 21 threatening an unprecedented terrorist attack, according to police. Police said the letter read: “We will be coming to your Mosque in August to carry out a massacre. It will be on a scale never seen.”
But congregants attending midday prayers on Friday were undeterred, with hundreds of worshippers filling the mosque. Asked about the terrorist threat, attendees said they were not intimidated by the threat — or even particularly surprised.
“It’s really nothing new,” said Hesham El-Meligy, a Staten Island resident who stops by Masjid Manhattan during work. “It’s not even on the radar. It’s nothing we stop our lives for.”
Other worshippers said they’ve grown used to such incidents these days.
“I wasn’t too surprised, I was just like, ‘Aw man, this is happening again, but at the mosque I pray in,’ ” said Imran Arif. “Thankfully, we have other people here to look out for us.”
Arif was joined by Haroon Bhatti, a co-worker at NYC Health + Hospitals, who alerted his fellow mosque-goers about the terror threat through their group chat.
“We let everyone know that this threat was identified,” Bhatti said. “But the point I was trying to get across to everyone was, ‘don’t be afraid — be cautious, be aware.’ ”
Bhatti said he was disappointed to see a rather a light police presence immediately after the mosque received such a disturbing threat — albeit of an attack two months away — but he was pleased with the turnout among worshippers. In fact, he said it seemed news of the threat may have actually increased attendance for Friday prayers, rather than scared people away.
“I think everyone took that and instead of staying home or praying at another mosque, they came over here, which I think is evident by the amount of people you see,” Bhatti said.
As worshippers showed up in force to fulfill their religious duty, several non-Mulsims also gathered in front of the mosque to express their solidarity in the face of the threats.
“I don’t think we know really one way or another if the threat is real,” said Kate Alexander, the policy director for Peace Action, whose New York offices are just around the corner on Fulton Street. “Regardless, these are our neighbors, family members, and co-workers. We’re here for them.”
Chuck Edwards, a Village resident and founding member of Just Good Neighbors, arranged for members of his group to hold up signs with messages of peace and acceptance and greet worshippers with the traditional Muslim greeting “As-Salaam-Alaikum.”
Just a day after the letter arrived threatening Masjid Manhattan — which the New York Post reports was mailed from London — the Islamic Cultural Center of New York on the Upper East Side received a bomb threat letter from England, according to police.
There have been no arrests in connection with either threat, according to police, but NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force is investigating both incidents.
The trans-Atlantic threats come on the heels of a deadly attack on a London mosque on June 19, in which a man drove a van into a crowd of Muslim worshipers gathered outside, allegedly in retaliation for a recent string of Islamist terror attacks in that city.
Local elected officials issued a joint statement on June 22 condemning the terrorist threat and blaming the coarsening of political discourse.
“Threatening a massacre at a house of worship is fundamentally an attack on the values and core principles of our nation, our city, and our borough,” read the statement signed by state Sen. Daniel Squadron, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Borough President Gale Brewer, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, and Councilmember Margaret Chin. “A political climate that fosters hatred and fear continues to have very real consequences in our neighborhoods.”
But neighbors of the mosque said the letter would not create much fear in their neighborhood. Ziggy Szymcyzk, the owner of the next-door bar The Iron Horse NYC, offered his solidarity with the mosque and the imams he interacts with daily.
“We’re in Downtown Manhattan, one of the safest areas,” Szyczyk said. “What am I going to do, shut my place down, build a wall? I can’t do that. Those are my neighbors. I’m here with them.”