Bush Criticizes Attacks on Arab-Americans

ByABC News
September 17, 2001, 1:17 PM

Sept. 17, 2001 -- President Bush visited a mosque in Washington today to issue a strong defense of Arab-Americans and Islam after anger over the World Trade Center attacks apparently turned deadly this weekend.

Arab-Americans and Muslims around the world were "appalled and outraged" at last Tuesday's terror attacks, Bush said. "These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith, and it's important for my fellow Americans to understand that."

Speaking at the Islamic Center in Washington, Bush said the millions of Muslims who are American citizens make a valuable contribution to the country. "The Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads, and they need to be treated with respect."

Bush said he had heard that some Muslims were afraid to leave their homes. "Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don't represent the best of America. They represent the worst of humankind. And they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior," the president said.

Bush's administration has identified Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden as the prime suspect in the coordinated attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Bin Laden resides in Afghanistan with the protection of the country's Taliban rulers.

Earlier today, FBI Director Robert Mueller said 40 reported attacks on Arab-Americans and mosques were being investigated as hate crimes. "Let me make this very clear. Vigilante attacks and threats against Arab-Americans will not be tolerated," he said.

Mueller said that when the FBI questioned Arab-Americans, it was based on the presumption "that the individuals may have information relating to the acts" that took place last week, not solely on their ethnicity.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights set up a hotline for complaints of discrimination against Arab-Americans, Muslims and others. The hotline number is 800-552-6843.

The House on Saturday unanimously approved a nonbinding resolution condemning acts of "bigotry and violence" against Arab-Americans, Muslims and South Asians living in the United States.

Fatal Attacks Reported

A Sikh gas station owner was shot and killed on Saturday in Mesa, Ariz., in what police said was a drive-by shooting. Police charged Frank Roque, 42, with one count of first-degree murder, as well as attempted murder for two other shootings, at a Lebanese-American clerk in another gas station and at the home of a family of Afghani descent.

In Dallas, a Pakistani grocer was shot to death Saturday night at his store. Police said there was no evidence of a robbery and that they were investigating whether the shooting was motivated by anger at Tuesday's terrorist attacks.

Attacks also continued on Muslim places of worship. In Parma, Ohio, police said a 29-year-old-man rammed his car into a mosque at 80 mph, smashing through the entrance and landing on top of a fountain. The man was taken to a hospital. The mosque was empty at the time, just after midnight early Monday.

'Sikhs Are Not Taliban'

The victim of the Arizona shooting, Balbir Singh Sodhi, 49, was a Sikh who had immigrated from India 10 years ago. Sikhs, whose men wear turbans and long beards, are not Muslims and not Arabs, but members of a religion that originated in northern India in the 16th century.

Mesa police said the suspect, Roque, told the arresting officers he was a patriot, saying, "I'm an American. Arrest me. Let those terrorists run wild."

"Mr. Sodhi was killed for no other apparent reason than that he was dark-skinned and wore a turban," Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley told The Associated Press. "He was killed because of hate."

The killing caused outrage among Indian Sikhs, who demonstrated near the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi with banners with message like "Mr. Bush, tell Americans Sikhs are not Taliban." Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee raised the issue in a telephone conversation with Bush, Indian officials said.

Sodhi's family had received numerous threats since Tuesday's attacks, according to Rajwant Singh of the Washington-based Sikh Council on Religion, who had spoken to Sodhi's brother.