Open House at Mosque of Suspects Proves Tense

May 19, 2007

Author: Kareem Fahim

Source: The New York Times

PALMYRA, N.J., May 18 — The man sat in the back row of the mosque, his arms folded, unsure whether his hard opinions would change.

“I’m concerned about the Muslims,” the man, Richard Smekal, 68, said just before an open house at the mosque, the Islamic Center of South Jersey, where four of six men accused of plotting to kill soldiers at Fort Dix had worshiped.

“Personally, I believe that Islam is a religion of the sword,” he said. But he admitted that he had never asked a Muslim.

The meeting at the mosque — for community members, local officials and law enforcement authorities — was perhaps an opportunity to do just that. But Mr. Smekal walked out, past the booklets about Islam and the refreshments, before a question-and-answer session at the end of the meeting. Still, many of the more than 100 people who attended, apparently harboring similar concerns about the mosque and the religion, asked questions of their own, steering the evening dialogue toward an angry conclusion.