Metro Detroit Yemenis call for U.S. aid to quash terrorism

Metro Detroit Yemenis call for U.S. aid to quash terrorism

Catherine Jun / The Detroit News

Detroit — Leaders of the local Yemeni community are condemning the Christmas Day plot to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, the work of which was claimed by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula as retaliation for U.S. operations in Yemen.

The attempted terrorist plot is an example of the kind of extremism that the Yemeni government itself is struggling to combat, said A. Jalil Nahshal, secretary of the Yemeni American Public Affairs Council, based in Dearborn.

“The local Yemenis absolutely condemn all types of actions like this,” Nahshal said. “The vast majority of Yemenis are a peace-loving people.”

Local Arabs and Muslim communities fear a possible backlash in the aftermath of Friday’s incident, when 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria allegedly attempted to detonate a bomb on a transatlantic flight from Amsterdam.

Southeastern Michigan boasts an estimated 40,000 Yemenis, with the largest concentrations in Southfield, Dearborn and Hamtramck. Many are Muslims, making up one of the largest Arab Muslim groups in the region, but some are Jews and Christians.

Nahshal said the incident shows how much Yemen needs assistance from the U.S. government to help quash terrorism within its borders.

“It’s so obvious this should be dealt with head-on,” he said. “And we’d be more than willing to help the administration.”

On Sunday, another flight arriving from Amsterdam to Detroit Metropolitan Airport frayed nerves when an ill Nigerian man made several visits to the lavatory during the final hour of the flight, raising the crew’s suspicions. Authorities cleared the man.

The incident is one of several that has put the Council on American-Islamic Relations on alert. On Sunday, it called on airline passengers, crews and security personnel to avoid ethnic and religious “profiling.” On another flight at Phoenix Sky Harbor International, two Middle Eastern men were questioned by the FBI after a jittery passenger overheard them speaking in a foreign language on an inbound flight from Orlando.

“We all have legitimate concerns regarding threats to our nation,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of the council’s Michigan chapter. But “we as Americans must balance our security concerns with our civil liberties. Cool heads need to prevail.” The local chapter is scheduled to hold a press conference today condemning the al-Qaida plot.

The council has asked the FBI to investigate another troubling incident on Christmas Day: the Texas shooting of Naushad Virani by an alleged white supremacist.

Some leaders within Metro Detroit’s Nigerian Muslim community say they also are bracing for discriminatory incidents.

“We do know there will be racial profiling,” said Imam Kazeem Agboola, head of the Muslim Community Center in Detroit, which is predominantly made up of Nigerians. Agboola said he and other local Nigerians did not know Abdulmutallab.

“We know there will be challenges coming,” he added.

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