tampabay.com

Muslims fear terror backlash

Leaders share their safety concerns with law enforcement agencies.

By ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published August 16, 2006


TAMPA - In his two years in the United States, Mohsin Teladia never felt uncomfortable over his religion. That is, until last week's announcement of the foiled terrorist plot in England.

Teladia, a Muslim clergyman who moved to the United States from England, was shopping Sunday with his wife and four children at a Wal-Mart when a man walked up to Teladia and said, "Osama."

"It was as though every person in the shopping center was staring at us," he said.

The stunned family left.

Teladia described the experience to about 20 law enforcement leaders who met with Muslims Tuesday at the Tampa headquarters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, known as CAIR.

Representatives from local, state and federal agencies, including police from Tampa, St. Petersburg, Temple Terrace and Tampa International Airport and sheriff's officials from Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, attended the meeting to address safety concerns among local Muslims.

Muslims worry about a backlash after the announcement of the terrorist plot, said Ahmed Bedier, CAIR's Tampa director.

So far, he said, there have been no hate crimes reported against local Muslims. But he wanted the public and law enforcement leaders to know of the community's fears.

"They feel this sense of a hostile environment," he said.

Muslims are also concerned about being singled out for special security screenings, he said.

That sort of racial or religious profiling is not acceptable, the law enforcement leaders said.

"There's no racial profiling," said airport police Chief Paul Sireci. "We do not do that."

Added Temple Terrace police Chief Tony Velong: "We attack crime, we don't attack people."

He and other leaders stressed the need for cooperation among all religions and races.