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Threatened shop owner speaks up

By TAMARA LUSH

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 15, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- When Harry Panjabiaroda unlocked his Massachusetts Avenue convenience store Thursday morning, he found a sign taped to the door:

"Leave this country, or you will die."

Panjabiaroda and his brother Jim decided to respond by taping a sign of their own on the door:

"Owner of this store is from INDIA. And he has nothing to do with Tuesday's (9-11-01) attack. He is Hindu not Muslim!"

Since Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Muslims across the country have suffered physical abuse and property damage. Here in the Tampa Bay area, many have felt the backlash.

In Hernando County this week, someone fired a bullet at a mosque. A St. Petersburg businessman of Palestinian heritage found spattered paint and a threatening note on his truck. In Temple Terrace, graffiti marred the garage door of another Palestinian-American.

At the A1 Discount Beverage Store in New Port Richey, someone thought he was lashing out at a Muslim by scrawling a threat and a crudely drawn skull-and-crossbones on a white piece of paper.

"They see the skin and they think we all have something to do with it," said Jim Panjabiaroda on Friday. "Some people don't know the difference."

Panjabiaroda said he and his brother, who came to the United States 15 years ago from western India, aren't afraid of being attacked. But Panjabiaroda said he wanted his customers to know exactly where his family is from.

"We took a little precaution," he said. "Some crazy people . . . could take advantage of the situation."

The Panjabiarodas say they have not experienced threats at their other two convenience stores in Holiday and Spring Hill, only at the 6529 Massachusetts Ave. location.

Harry Panjabiaroda called the Pasco County Sheriff's Office when he found the note. A deputy took the note and placed it into the property evidence room.

According to the Sheriff's Office, the writer of the note has not been located.

- Tamara Lush is the police reporter in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6245, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245. Her e-mail address is lush@sptimes.com.

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