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Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Islamic Center of Boca Raton member's arrest shows FL is 'preferred locale for terrorists' - CAIR lawyer for Rafiq Sabir

Islamic Center of Boca Raton member's arrest shows FL is 'preferred locale for terrorists' - CAIR lawyer for Rafiq Sabir

CAIR lawyer to defend Sabir
June 3, 2005

"...Sabir's neighbors at the Villa San Remo gated community west of Boca Raton expressed shock at Sabir's weekend arrest. "Everyone is a little concerned," said Alicia Figueroa. "It's unbelievable what (the federal government) is charging him with. We wish it wasn't here and that the charges aren't true."
Said another woman: "He has two beautiful kids. They were decent people..."

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/content/local_news/epaper/2005/06/01/m1a_sabir_0601.html

MIM: The denial of Rafiq Sabir's neighbors that a terrorist might have been living among them is truly astounding in light of the fact that one of the 9/11 hijackers was living in Vero Beach with his wife and children, Just before 9/11 the Alomari's threw a 'farewell' party for their neighbors before he sent his family back to Saudi Arabia. A week later Alomari crashed into the World Trade Center with Mohamed Atta.At the party for their neighbors, Alomari's wife served Happy Meals and told the guests that the family wanted to leave behind good memories.

Eccerpt from: You never imagine: The hijackers next door

by Joel Achenbach
The Washington Post
September 16, 2001
http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A38026-2001Sep15&notFound=true

"...The conspirators apparently did their plotting face to face, in meetings late at night at rented homes. Some of the people associated with the group may still be at large. Authorities are looking for Amer Kamfar, who lived in Vero Beach with his wife and four children. He has an FAA license, with extensive qualifications as a pilot, flight engineer and mechanic. Neighbor Hank Habora said about two or three weeks ago Kamfar left Vero Beach in a hurry.

"They took all their stuff and put it out by the trash: clothes, furniture, pots and pans," he said.

There was one pronounced link between the conspirators and the rest of American society: Their children. They did not have to participate in the jihad. In Vero Beach, Lisa Dubose's 6-year-old son was best buddies with the son of a man named Abdulaziz Alomari -- who later boarded American Airlines Flight 11 with Atta.

The adult Alomaris didn't socialize much. A wave now and again. They spent time with another Muslim family -- clannish behavior that the American neighbors assumed was normal. Theirs was a nice home, rented for $1,400 a month.

The only problem with the Alomaris were the late-night meetings. Next-door neighbor Betty Egger said that as many as a dozen cars would be parked outside, some on her own lawn. It rattled her to see car headlights flashing through her windows at 2 in the morning.

Alomari told his landlord in August that the family would soon be moving back home, to Saudi Arabia. Then, just before Labor Day, something unusual happened: The Alomaris threw a party for all the neighborhood children. "They invited all the kids, even ones they'd never seen before," said neighbor Andrew Krease.

They served pizza and Happy Meals. Where they come from, Alomari's wife told the neighbors, it is customary to throw a party before moving -- to leave nice memories..."

BOCA RATON SUSPECT

Doctor accused as terrorist goes to court in Fort Pierce


A Palm Beach County doctor facing terrorism charges makes his second appearance today in federal court.

BY EVAN S. BENN

ebenn@herald.com

http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/11801570.htm

The arrest of a Palm Beach County doctor on charges that he agreed to support al Qaeda has raised some fears that South Florida continues to be a preferred locale for people with terrorist links.

Fourteen of the 19 hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks had lived and trained in South Florida as they plotted the strikes.

In the latest case of suspected terrorists, the government alleges that Dr. Rafiq Sabir, 50, of Boca Raton, and a New York associate, Tarik Shah, 42, vowed their allegiance to al Qaeda last month. Federal prosecutors claim the pair agreed to use their skills in medicine and martial arts to treat and train terrorists.

Sabir is scheduled for a status hearing this morning in federal court in Fort Pierce with an attorney his family retained Thursday. The Islamic Center in Boca Raton, where Sabir is a member, is helping to pay for his legal counsel, said Daniel McBride, Sabir's friend and the center's spokesman.

COMMUNITY SPEAKS OUT

The connection between Sabir and the Islamic center is of concern to members of the American Jewish Committee.

"If the government is correct [about Sabir], this is not just a little snag," said Bill Gralnick, the committee's southeast regional director. "It's someone giving aid and comfort to the enemy, to people who are trying to kill us."

But McBride described Sabir as "a good Muslim" with no connection to al Qaeda. He said the charge against Sabir is "absurd" and that he wouldn't wish harm on anyone.

"Dr. Sabir doesn't have ill will toward anyone," McBride said.

Gralnick and leaders of five other Jewish organizations criticized the Islamic center in 2001 when its website linked to an anti-Semitic article that described Jews as "usurpers and aggressors" who are "known for their treachery and corruption."

The mosque removed the article from its site and issued a statement repudiating the article's content. The mosque's spiritual leader also met with Gralnick and others to resolve the situation.

FLORIDA HAVEN

Gralnick said he has moved past the website controversy, but he is worried about the notion that South Florida may still be home to people with ties to terrorism.

The case evokes two conflicting American phrases, Gralnick said.

"The first is that you're innocent until proven guilty, and Dr. Sabir certainly has got to have the full protection of the law," Gralnick said. "The other one is: Where there's smoke, there's fire."

McBride confirmed that Sabir will have an attorney at today's hearing, but he did not know who the lawyer is. Sabir also is scheduled to be in court Monday for a pretrial detention hearing and to determine if he will be tried in New York.

QUIET BACKGROUND

Neighbors in Sabir's Villa San Remo community in west Boca Raton said they didn't know much about the doctor, his Jamaican-born wife or their children. Some neighbors did notice the FBI agents that staked out Sabir's home in the weeks before his arrest.

On Thursday, Villa San Remo resident Hugh Albright said he is not talking with other neighbors, or the media.

"We're waiting for the guy to have a fair trial before jumping to any conclusions," Albright said.

Employees at Glades General Hospital in Belle Glade, where Sabir worked in the emergency room between August 2003 and January 2004, also would not talk about the case, referring a reporter to a two-sentence statement issued by hospital officials that confirmed Sabir worked in the ER between those dates.

-----------------

By John Coté
sun-sentinel.com

June 3, 2005, http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/palmbeach/sfl-63sabir,0,6858522.story?coll=sfla-news-palm

The West Boca emergency room doctor accused of conspiring to assist al-Qaida has retained a former Miami public defender and Muslim civil rights activist to represent him, according to information from the U.S. Attorney's Office on Friday.

Rafiq Abdus Sabir has retained Khurrum Basir Wahid as his attorney, said Megan Gaffney, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York. Wahid could not be reached by phone at his Lighthouse Point office.

Wahid was the civil rights director for the Florida chapter of the Council on American Islamic-Relations and served as a consulting attorney for the civil liberties group at least as recent as 2003.

Wahid has been an vocal advocate for due process in cases involving terrorism-related charges.

"I'm not saying let everybody out," Wahid said in 2002 on the case of Adham Hassoun, a computer programmer from Sunrise then being held in secretative detention. "I'm just saying bring it to a hearing. Let a jury decide the facts. Guilt or innocence is not for the government to decide. It's for a jury to decide."

Sabir is scheduled to appear in federal court in Fort Pierce on Monday for a hearing to determine if he is the person named in the complaint out of a New York federal court and if there is probable cause he committed the conspiracy charge alleged. If so, Sabir will be transferred to New York for trial. The hearing is also slated to address whether Sabir should be detained pending trial. A spokeswoman at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami said late Thursday that the Monday hearing may be delayed.

Sabir, 50, and and his life-long friend Tarik Ibn Osman Shah, 42, a New York jazz musician, were ordered held without bail on Tuesday in separate federal courts on charges they pledged and plotted to assist the al-Qaida terrorist organization.

Sabir was somber as he was led into federal court in Fort Pierce in handcuffs, ankle shackles and navy blue jail garb, looking downward and closing his eyes as he waited to appear before U.S. Magistrate James M. Hopkins. At that time Sabir told the judge he was trying to retain an attorney.

"I'm worried about the brother," Daniel McBride, a friend of Sabir's and a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Boca Raton, said outside of court on Tuesday. "This anti-American stuff that they've accused him of, it's absurd."

McBride was one of two supporters who appeared at Sabir's hearing on a charge he conspired to provide material support to al-Qaida, the terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden.

The scene contrasted with the one at federal court in Manhattan during the appearance of Sabir's alleged accomplice, Shah.

Shah, wearing a blue T-shirt and khakis, appeared relaxed during his appearance before U.S. Magistrate Theodore Katz. Handcuffed during the proceeding, Shah at one point turned and smiled at his wife, Zakkiyyah, and a group of about a dozen other supporters in the courtroom.

As part of a "package" deal, Shah, a self-described martial-arts expert, agreed to provide hand-to-hand combat training to al-Qaida members, while Sabir plotted to treat "wounded jihadists" in Saudi Arabia, prosecutors contend in the complaint filed in federal court in New York.

Sabir and Shah both swore allegiance to bin Laden during an audiotaped meeting May 20, according to prosecutors.

"It's a sting operation," Anthony Ricco, a lawyer for Shah, said outside court, noting the investigation had been going on for two years. "It makes me wonder if somebody was a threat to our national security, why did it take two years?"

---------------------

MIM: Arthur Teitelbaum of the The Anti Defamation League , and Bill Gralnick of the American Jewish Committee, have not only failed to take on radical Islamists in South Florida, they have made inane statements the media on the terrorism situation underplaying the threat. For the ADL the Christian right more of a threat to Jews then Islamist terrorism. Unfortunately for those in need of facts, they have set themselves up as the 'go to guys' for the press, and are all too ready to pontificate as self styled representatives of the Jewish community,issuing non committal uninformed statements.

The statement made by Art Teitelbaum of the ADL is typical of his organisation's politically correct stance where he mentions the possibility of terrorism at the Boca mosque, while decrying the fact that Arabs are implicated in terrorism.

For his part, Bill Gralnick, the president of the AJC, showed his formidable powers of analysis by announcing to the media that:" Where there's smoke there's fire, members of the community definitely think there is something going on here..."

Gralnick's insighful comments in the article above bring to mind his remarks after an infamous post 9/11 breakfast at the Dremali residence, together with ICBR spokesman Hassan Shareef and reform Jewish 'cleric' Sam Silver, who together with his son Barry,'s most recent interfaith activities involved a forum at FAU with ICBR spokesman Daniel McBride whose was denounced as being anti semitic by Teitelbaum of the ADL. After the meal, Gralnick expressed surprise at Dremali's announcement that that he did not like Israeli Jews, and astutely opined to the press, that "he might be an antisemite". http://www.newtimesbpb.com/issues/2001-10-25/news/news_print.html

Which begs the question as to why it took an arrest of a member of the Islamic Center of Boca Raton before Teitelbaum's ADL and Gralnick's AJC finally stated that 'something was going on' at the ICBR hastening to add that 'Arabs shouldn't be blamed', when articles detailing the terrorism ties of the mosque had been prominently featured in the media for years.

------------------------------------------------

Boca Jews concerned over Sabir's membership in controversial mosque
Published Thursday, June 2, 2005 Boca Raton News

by By Sean Salai http://www.bocaratonnews.com/index.php?src=news&category=Local%20News&prid=11750
Although a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Boca Raton has been quick to jump to the defense of Dr. Rafiq Abdus Sabir, the doctor arrested for pledging his support to al-Qaida, some members of the local Jewish community said Wednesday they were wary to trust a mosque that was in hot water in 2003 after anti-American and anti-Israeli information links were found on its website.

Bill Gralnick, southeast director of the American Jewish Committee, said many members of Boca's Jewish community were finding it hard to believe in Sabir's innocence simply because of his involvement with the often-investigated Islamic Center. Sabir was arrested Saturday at his Boca Raton home in Villa San Remo and charged with conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaida after federal authorities said they had two years worth of taped phone conversations implicating him.

"Where there's smoke, there's fire," Gralnick said. "Members of the Jewish community feel there's definitely something going on here, with South Florida being some kind of cell or Petrie dish for terrorists. Whether or not Sabir is innocent, he represents the problem."

In April 2003, Gralnick was one of several Jewish leaders who pressured the Boca Islamic Center, the area's only full-time mosque, to purge its website of links to the Palestinian Information Center, an anti-American and anti-Israeli domain. Rafir Dhafil, arrested in upstate New York for allegedly sending millions of dollars to Iraq, spoke at an Islamic Center fundraiser that same year.

During a visit to the Boca Raton News in May 2003, mosque leaders famously described Sami al Arian, the University of South Florida professor arrested for ties to Middle-Eastern terrorist organizations (and seen on video shouting, "Death to Israel, Death to America and Death to Jews") as "a good man."

But Center spokesman Dan McBride said that is all water under the bridge and that his congregation has worked hard to foster positive relationships with all religious groups in the Boca community.

Most mosque members believe Sabir is innocent of the terrorism charges and are likely to contribute some money to his legal defense, McBride said.

"Although we're not doing an organized fundraiser, we'll definitely ask people to help the brother out," McBride said.

Art Teitelbaum, southeast regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the Boca mosque would be wise not to directly support Sabir, 50, during the emergency room doctor's upcoming federal trial in Fort Pierce.

"The issue is deadly serious because we've already found radical Islamic elements living among us in Florida," Teitelbaum said. "These charges remind us that radical anti-American elements in the Islamic community are still a threat to our safety."

Teitelbaum added, "It's especially important at this point not to jump to any conclusions. We have to draw a distinction and never blame the Arab-American community as a whole for Arab-sponsored terrorism."

Sabir, a local emergency room doctor, was denied bond Tuesday. He told U.S. Magistrate James M. Hopkins he was in the process of trying to retain an attorney.

Sabir's co-defendant, Tarik Shah, a New York martial arts expert and jazz musician, was also denied bond Tuesday in Manhattan.

According to the terrorism indictment, Sabir and Shah offered themselves to an undercover FBI agent as part of a "package deal" to help Muslims wage a holy war in the U.S. and Middle East.

The undercover agent, posing as an al-Qaida operative, allegedly taped numerous conversations between Sabir and Shah as they conspired to aid foreign terrorists. The federal sting investigation started in 2003.

Shah, who met Sabir when the doctor attended Columbia University's medical school, allegedly offered to train soldiers for the jihad while Sabir offered to provide medical assistance.

The two men also took an oath pledging their loyalty to al-Qaida, according to the complaint.

When Sabir disappeared from the U.S. between last October and May 1, he told the undercover agent he was working as a doctor at a Saudi Arabian military base in Riyadh.

McBride attended Sabir's bond hearing Tuesday in Fort Pierce. and he said he still considered the doctor a friend.

"I think he's completely innocent and it's a shame someone as nice as this guy, an emergency room physician who takes care of sick people, is being persecuted because of his travel patterns. It's not fair," McBride said.

McBride and other mosque members have stood publicly at the side of Sabir's family ever since federal agents arrested the west Boca doctor.

They contend there is a simple explanation for all of the suspicious activities listed in the terrorism indictment, including the doctor's trips to Saudi Arabia.

"With all the different agencies involved, we feel it was just a big mistake. He'll eventually be exonerated and it won't even be an issue," McBride said.

Sabir moved to suburban Boca in 2002 and worked on contract as an E.R. doctor for local hospitals, McBride said.

Sabir has two young children by his current girlfriend, all of who reportedly accompanied him to Saudi Arabia on a six-month Visa, and three adult children by a former wife.

"He wasn't more active than other members of the mosque," McBride said. "He happened to live in Boca, so he came by to pray because we're the only mosque around. He was a real nice guy."

Sabir is due back in court Friday and will be arraigned June 15. If convicted, he will face up to 15 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.

Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@bocanews.com or 561-893-6427

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http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/southflorida/sfl-psabir05jun05,0,7608280.story?coll=sfla-home-headlines

Views of Boca suspect clash with charges

By Jennifer Peltz, Tal Abbady and Peter Franceschina
Sun-Sentinel

June 5, 2005

New York · For those who know the man in the white medical coat, it's hard to reconcile the amiable, caring doctor with the FBI portrayal of an enthusiastic al-Qaida conspirator.

Dr. Rafiq Sabir spent most of his 20-year medical career bouncing around emergency rooms in New York before moving west of Boca Raton several years ago. Religious leaders and acquaintances recall a doctor who treated poor patients for free and lamented inequities in treatment between the rich and poor.

Self-motivated, he was willing to make financial sacrifices to further his training, but he also piled up huge debts. He seemed to exude good will.

Federal investigators say there is another, secretive side to Sabir. They call him "the Doctor," too, but for a different reason. It's the "a/k/a" listed in the 18-page criminal complaint alleging Sabir, 50, wanted to use his skills to the save the lives of wounded jihadist fighters in the Middle East.

"He's not that guy. He's never come across as being what the government's portraying him to be," said Eric Hamza Byas, one of the joint secretaries of the Islamic Center of Long Island, where Sabir frequently attended prayers.

"Sabir always had a smile for everyone, and he treated you as though you were somebody special. He wasn't a doctor just in [title]. He was a doctor just in the way he conducted himself and the way he treated people. ... We're praying for his family and for his well-being."

Sabir is in the Palm Beach County Jail following his arrest May 28 during an early morning raid on the home west of Boca Raton that he shared with his wife, Arleen Morgan, and their two young sons. Sabir is to have a bail hearing Monday, and federal prosecutors in New York want him taken there.

Charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, Sabir, federal investigators say, pledged his loyalty to al-Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden. He was about to leave last week for Saudi Arabia, investigators said.

`Package' deal

The path to terrorism-support allegations traces to Sabir's close friendship with New York jazz musician and martial arts instructor Tarik Shah, 42, also charged in the case. Shah was the investigation's initial target, and he told undercover operatives posing as al-Qaida contacts that he and Sabir were a "package" deal, according to the complaint.

Both men were surreptitiously recorded making their loyalty pledge, the complaint says. "Sabir also stated that both he and Shah had asked Allah for the oath and now they both had it," it says.

Sabir came from a large Catholic family, but his home life wasn't the best, according to his ex-wife, Ingrid Doyle.

Sabir's father came and went, and his mother was a manic-depressive who couldn't care for the couple's seven children on her own, Doyle said. The children ended up in a group home, where Sabir lived from age 5 through high school, she said.

"That really affected him," Doyle said.

Sabir became interested in Islam during high school, Doyle said, although he was not a strict adherent to daily prayers or fasting during the Ramadan holy month.

Sabir got his pre-med degree from City College of New York and his medical degree from Columbia University in May 1981, marrying Doyle that same month.

During their 11-year marriage, Sabir worked as an emergency room physician in a dozen hospitals. The couple had two children, Safiya, 21, and Jabreel, 18.

Hardworking man

"He was nothing if not a hardworking man," Doyle said. "He was a lovely husband and father, the whole bit."

But there was friction toward the end, when he began pressing her to become a traditional Muslim wife, Doyle said.

Sabir drifted away from their children beginning in 1997, but recently visited their daughter at her college. The children were visiting Sabir in Florida over the Memorial Day weekend when he was arrested.



Sabir came to his faith through the Nation of Islam, Byas said. The Nation of Islam, founded by the Wallace Fard Muhammad, is known for its message of black empowerment, but, Byas said, Sabir moved to a purely spiritual Muslim practice.

For a time, Sabir operated a storefront office in Harlem, said Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, leader of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood. He said Sabir gave free care to people who couldn't afford it.

"Dr. Sabir was well-known here in Harlem and known, really, as a humanitarian physician," Abdur-Rashid said.

Dr. Faroque Khan, the former medical chief at Nassau University Medical Center and the president of the Islamic Center of Long Island, came to know Sabir both personally and professionally. Sixteen years after getting his medical degree, Sabir decided to get specialty training in internal medicine at the medical center.

"That says something about him," Khan said. "That's what makes me wonder: A person with those kind of goals would be involved in the kinds of things he is alleged to have been involved in?"

As for political opinions, Khan only remembers Sabir deploring disparities between the health care available for the poor and the wealthy.

"He wanted things to improve for everyone," Khan said. "He was not just a `me' kind of a guy. He was concerned about others."



Divorced in 1992, Sabir met Arleen Morgan the next year when she took her 3-year-old daughter, Shayna Parchment, to a hospital for an ear infection. They married five months later.

The family moved into a spacious, two-story white colonial in an upscale Long Island neighborhood, Westbury. He and Morgan, who purchased the home for $355,000, have two sons, Isa, 6, and Amir, 4. Morgan became a nurse, with Sabir's encouragement.

"He loves family, he's hardworking, he'd do anything for you, if you asked," said Parchment, now 15, who lived with the couple until their move to Florida, when she decided she wanted to spend more time with New York relatives.

While Sabir was starting a new family, debts kept piling up. The federal government sued Sabir and obtained a $354,000 judgment against him in 1992, apparently for unpaid student loans, records show. Leasing companies filed liens against him for office equipment. And the IRS filed liens for $270,000 in unpaid taxes.

In Florida, Sabir worked for a time at Glades General Hospital. He and Morgan lived in a rented home in the gated Villa San Remo community west of Boca Raton. He also spent time working at a hospital on a military base in Saudi Arabia. He was scheduled to leave for Saudi Arabia on Thursday, with plans for his family to join him in about a month.

New beginning

Dr. Daniel McBride, a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Boca Raton and a friend of Sabir's, said the doctor was a devout Muslim and good father who came to Florida for a new beginning.

Sabir and Morgan meant last weekend to be memorable, a festive gathering of family. With Parchment and Sabir's older children visiting, the whole clan sat for a studio portrait.

They had dinner and stayed up late watching television. Then, in the early hours of May 28, the family was startled awake by arriving authorities.

"I was shocked, very shocked," Parchment said. "I hope everything's OK, for my mother's sake and my brothers.'"

Jennifer Peltz reported from New York and Tal Abbady and Peter Franceschina reported from South Florida.

Jennifer Peltz can be reached at jpeltz@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6636.

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What Boca Raton's Jews and Muslims have here is a failure to communicate
By Ashley Fantz
http://www.newtimesbpb.com/issues/2001-10-25/news/news_print.html

Michael McElroy Imam Ibrahim Dremali removed the infamous link, but he remains disconnected from his Jewish neighbors

Imam Ibrahim Dremali finished evening prayers on September 26 at Boca Raton's Islamic Center in front of a sparse congregation. The mosque, which he had helped establish three years ago, would normally have been packed with worshipers, but the events of September 11 and the subsequent backlash against Muslims in the United States, however sporadic, had thinned the crowd. As he walked out the double doors, he passed two security guards, hired as the result of threatening phone calls he and his flock had received.

As if that weren't enough, the 40-year-old Palestinian-American had spent the day fielding angry complaints from Jewish leaders demanding that the center remove a link from its Web page that teemed with anti-Semitic rhetoric. Dremali didn't know how it got there; he hadn't even seen it yet. He would take it off, he assured them. But around 9 p.m., all he wanted to do was go home, maybe play with his boys, ages eight and ten, and talk with his wife.

Still, he fretted about the link as he walked to his Toyota Camry parked near the mosque. He thought about it on the short drive home.

"I had so much on my mind that, when I saw someone behind me, flashing me with their high beams, I ignored it," he recalls. "I arrived home, stepped out of my car, and I was pushed back into the car. This guy was pushing a big gun into my chest."

A clean-shaven white man wearing a T-shirt and jeans shoved the butt of his gun into Dremali's chest again. "If I see you in church tomorrow," he warned, "you're dead meat."

Another man, similarly dressed, stood at the foot of Dremali's car and pointed a handgun at him. Calmly the assailants climbed back into their white Chevrolet truck and drove away, two American flags flapping on the tailgate.

"I was completely shocked," says Dremali, a Sunni Muslim and karate student with a third-degree black belt. "Obviously they'd followed me from the mosque to my house. I couldn't speak. I felt helpless." He remembers fearing that his boys would rush outside to greet him, as they often did. "My God, what if they would have come outside? I saw death in front of my eyes."

The September 26 assault is still under investigation by Boca Raton police. Distracted by the menacing of their prayer leader, officials of the center didn't think to remove the Web link for four days. Though Dremali has since apologized for the link, the mistrust and ill will between Boca Raton's Jewish and Muslim communities -- which apparently fueled both the hate crime against Dremali and the hate speech that appeared on the center's site -- shows little sign of abating.

The delay in removing the offending link irked local Jewish leaders, particularly William Gralnick, the South Florida regional director of the New York City-based American Jewish Committee, one of the nation's largest Jewish organizations. Gralnick now insists that, if Muslims wish to engage in any sort of official dialogue with Jews, Muslims must initiate the talks and then undergo "background checks" for terrorist ties by the American Jewish Council. Gralnick's position is supported by the Boca Raton chapter of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The hard-line position seems odd for a man like Gralnick, who has built a career on interfaith relations. Praised by long-time Boca rabbi Samuel Silver for having "a very light touch" and being "an extraordinarily skilled negotiator," the 56-year-old New York native was given an honorary doctorate from Florida Atlantic University in 1999.

On this issue, though, Gralnick is digging in his heels. "I don't think there was an appreciation for how offensive the material on the site was," Gralnick explains while stabbing a caesar salad at famous Jewish deli Wolfie's in Boca Raton. The link, finally removed from the center's home page the first week of October, was penned by someone identified only as "Sheikh." In answering a Web-posted question, "Why can't Jews and Muslims live in peace?" on a Website separate from the Islamic Center, "Sheikh" calls Jews "treacherous... usurpers and aggressors" and describes stories of Muslims murdering Jews.

"Outrageous, unbelievable, and hateful stuff that went on at length," Gralnick fumes about the posting.

"The words on the link were really terrible," Dremali agrees. "We did not know the guy who put it on our site. I didn't know it was there. I believe in working with the Jewish people, especially right now."

At the request of Gralnick and prominent rabbi Merle Singer of Boca's largest synagogue, Temple Beth El, Dremali posted an Internet apology and issued a press release denouncing the link. Neither gesture seemed enough for Gralnick or Singer, both of whom met over breakfast falafels at the imam's home October 3. The leaders emerged from the two-hour-long discussion with nothing more than full bellies and ruffled feathers.

"I wouldn't say we made great progress," says Hassan Shareef, a center spokesperson. Shareef, who attended the breakfast, says fireworks flew when the imam told Singer and Gralnick that, "Muslims don't like Jews in Israel but don't have the same kind of animosity toward Jews in America."

"It was uncomfortable," Shareef recalls. "Mr. Gralnick explained to us that Jewish people do not differentiate between those in Israel and those in the United States. We understand that it offends Jewish people for us to separate Israel and America in this nationalistic sense. That is what we have come to understand. But they have to understand certain aspects of our faith."

Singer describes the meeting as "typically Middle Eastern": "It was calm, pleasant, formal," he says. "You know, like they always like to do."

Gralnick, however, dismisses the meeting as "public relations," saying that the best action right now is no action. "I don't know what good it would do anybody just to get us in a room together. That might even be dangerous," he asserts. "We considered the material [on the Website] blasphemous. The imam was very open about the fact that, if something was quoted from the Koran, that was just the way it is."

"No public dialogue is really in order until we get beyond the present mood," Singer says. And the rabbi doesn't anticipate pressure from members of Temple Beth El to move forward with communication. No one has requested that so far, but if someone does, Singer says, he would probably invite Muslim leaders to Temple Beth El without playing detective first.

Gralnick, however, says he's more resolute than ever about putting any Muslim through a series of checks. Although he would not detail how that information would be compiled, Gralnick says the American Jewish Committee "starts with the state department's lists of terrorist organizations. We assume that any individual that appears in the press and at rallies and who's on that list is going to be in our files. We have files on people who we think may do us harm: the Klan, the John Birch Society. I don't apologize for that."

Dremali is offended by the idea of being investigated. "There's already so much misunderstanding between us that that seems to make things much worse, the assumption that we are already suspects," he says. "I'm afraid any little mistake Muslims may have made in their lives will be known, exploited, used by a small group of people to their advantage. [Gralnick] told me that several million Muslims are already questionable to him. What gives them that authority?"

Although Jewish leaders support Gralnick's belief that the two groups should continue to refrain from open dialogue, they are distancing themselves from the term background checks.

Boca's chapter of the Anti-Defamation League aims to protect the rights of South Florida's 580,000 Jews, 64,500 of whom live in Boca Raton; the majority of Jews throughout the region attend conservative synagogues. The organization also serves South Florida's 70,000 Muslims, who first began migrating to the area in significant numbers 15 years ago. It's unclear how many Muslims live in Boca, but approximately 15 mosques and 10 houses of prayer have sprung up in southern Palm Beach County since the mid-1980s.

ADL director Bill Rothchild and associate director Ilene Goodman split hairs on the topic of Muslim and Jewish forums. They say they would recommend the groups "proceed with caution" and perform background checks not on Muslim organizations but on individual Muslims.

Not everyone with the league is quick to impose conditions on talks between Jews and Muslims. Art Teitelbaum, the organization's Southern Area director, says that, though Muslims have lived in South Florida for decades, only in the past few years have followers of Islam increased their civic and social presences here. "Now we have an extraordinary situation created by events here and in the Middle East," says Teitelbaum, who has led thousands of interfaith forums. "I can't think of a better time to talk than right now."

A voice from the Muslim community agrees. Dr. Zulfiqar Shah, the director of Fort Lauderdale's Islamic Studies Center and former University of Florida scholar on Judaism and Islam, says restricting communication between Jews and Muslims is "damaging, foolish, and dangerous."

"We need to unify our religions, not try to discard each other's credibility," effuses Shah. "This is not the time for picking apart issues mired in the Middle East. We must refocus as a nation and face terror like a nation. Dialogue is the best thing for everyone. These men call themselves faith leaders; they should act that way."

Dremali says he'd like to organize a forum for Jews and Muslims. "I feel that it's something we must do. Continuing with this level of conflict right here in our town is not healthy," he says. "That is not why I came to this country, to feel divided from another group. There is all this talk about feeling united right now. Well, where is that in Boca?"



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