Robbers, disguised as Muslim women, hit banks in Philadelphia

A string of bank robberies, carried out by people disguised in traditional Islamic woman’s garb, has prompted concerns among religious, government and law enforcement officials in the Philadelphia area.

The robberies, at least five since December, were carried out by people wearing full-length robes and veils to hide the hair and part of the face, according to some surveillance tapes broadcast by local stations in Philadelphia. Muslim leaders fear use of the disguises could put Muslim women in danger or make them objects of scrutiny.

“We regard this act as discriminatory,” Imam Isa Abdul Matin told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. “It is in actuality a type of hate crime against Muslims.”

The Muslim leaders offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the robbers.

The use of Muslim disguises seems to be contained to the Philadelphia area, according to Muslim groups and law enforcement officials.

In the past, bank security officials in other parts of the country raised concerns about the potential for Muslim head scarves to hide identity, Amina Rubin, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said by telephone from Washington, D.C. They were worried that the scarves might hide faces from security cameras; when shown that the scarves don’t in fact hide faces, they were satisfied, she said.