Con Ed Sells Building Near Ground Zero Where Plans for Mosque Caused Uproar

August 21, 2014

Consolidated Edison, which once owned the nuclear reactors at Indian Point, has finally unloaded a property that may have been the source of even more controversy.

The utility company notified state regulators this week that it had sold the site of a proposed Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan that came to be known as the “ground zero mosque.” Con Edison has not used the building since 1969, but the company got caught in the uproar over the proposal when it surfaced nearly five years ago.

By then, Con Edison had been nothing more than the landlord for the building at 49-51 Park Place, about two blocks north of the World Trade Center. It was close enough to the twin towers destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001, that a wing flap from one of the crashed jets was found there last year.

That proximity to a place where more than 2,700 people were killed by terrorists set off a national debate about the plan for a mosque and Islamic cultural center on the property. The developer, Soho Properties, eventually abandoned that idea and now plans to build a three-story museum dedicated to Islam on the Con Ed site and a condominium tower on an adjacent lot, 45 Park Place, Roxanne Donovan, a spokeswoman for the developer, said on Wednesday. (The museum would contain a sanctuary for prayer services.)

That plan has been years in the making and it is still not clear if Sharif El-Gamal, the chief executive of Soho Properties, has the financing necessary to move forward. But he cleared one of the hurdles at the end of July, when he bought the Con Edison property for $10.7 million, Ms. Donovan said.

Even that transaction was fraught, though. Soho Properties had been leasing the property until it decided in 2010 to buy it from Con Ed. The utility set the price at $10.7 million, but the developer challenged that valuation in court. After a judge in State Supreme Court in Manhattan confirmed the valuation, the developer appealed.

In a statement issued by Ms. Donovan, Mr. El-Gamal said: “We are pleased to have concluded a complex acquisition from Con Edison allowing us to complete the assemblage for our upcoming developments at Park Place. This further exemplifies our strength as a buyer of real estate from institutional sellers.”

The latest proposal for the Con Ed site, disclosed in late April, called for a “museum and sanctuary space” designed by the architect Jean Nouvel and “dedicated to exploring the faith of Islam and its arts and culture.”

At the time, Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesman for Mr. El-Gamal, said the developer was not anticipating an outcry similar to the one that erupted over his plan for a much larger Islamic community center and prayer space.

Visitors Fault Sept. 11 Museum’s Portrayal of Islam

June 1, 2014

After the vivid audio recordings, diagrams and personal artifacts that take visitors minute by minute through the Sept. 11 attacks, and before the images of recovery workers combing through rubble, a small section of the National September 11 Memorial Museum is devoted to explaining Al Qaeda and terrorism.

A seven-minute video installation narrates a summarized history of Al Qaeda, opposite a series of brief explanatory panels about the group’s ideology and its attacks. On a recent weekday, some visitors stopped to watch the film in its entirety, but others only paused briefly. Some read the text panels, one of which explains that Al Qaeda represents a tiny fraction of the world’s Muslims; many people did not.

In April, the video, “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” became the center of a controversy over how the museum should talk about Islam in reference to the attacks. An interfaith group of New York clergy members argued the film failed to sufficiently differentiate between terrorism and Islam, and asked for changes. Now that the public has access to the museum, some visitors say they agree.

Last Thursday, among 20 people who had just gone through the museum, there was consensus that the museum did not come across as anti-Muslim. It provided them with basic information about Islam and Al Qaeda. But many said there was not enough explanation to enrich their perspective or teach them more than they already knew. Most worrisome, some said they thought a Muslim might feel uncomfortable visiting.

“I think they should have talked about Islam more, just so people understand that there is a difference between Islam and people who do terrorist attacks but who also happen to be Islamic,” said Adrian Cabreros, 22, visiting with his mother from San Francisco. “They just sort of said that the people from Al Qaeda wanted to have a more Islamic state, but it was hard to distinguish, to separate Islam itself. It kind of gives Islam a bad vibe.”

At the museum itself, the controversy over the treatment of Islam has centered on the terminology used to describe Al Qaeda. The interfaith panel contended that using religion-related terms like Islamist and jihadist to describe the terrorists could lead people to believe that the group’s violent, radical beliefs were indicative of the wider religion.

Queens street renamed for Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a Muslim police cadet who died helping victims at the World Trade Center on 9/11

Hamdani, born to Muslim parents from Pakistan, was initially the subject of leaks suggesting that he was a possible suspect in the attacks

A police cadet who died helping World Trade Center victims on 9/11 was honored Monday at a Queens street renaming — 13 years after being accused of involvement in the attacks.

Residents and elected officials came together to formally rename 204th St. at 35th Ave. “Salman Hamdani Way” after Mohammed Salman Hamdani, the son of Muslim immigrants from Pakistan who lived a block from the Bayside street.

“It’s a joyous and victorious day,” said Talat Hamdani, the mother of the police cadet, who died at the age of 23. “And it’s a turning point in America’s fight against prejudice and bigotry. It symbolizes that OK, American Muslims are also Americans, and we are an integral part of society.”

Hamdani’s name was initially tarred by leaks to the press from anonymous police sources suggesting he was suspected of ties to terrorists, but was eventually given a funeral with full police honors in April 2002, a month after his remains were found in the wreckage at Ground Zero.

Residents and merchants cheered the new street sign on 204th Street at 35th Avenue, one block from the house where the former Bayside High School football player grew up.

“It’s a great idea,” said Gidon Pesso, owner of Pesso’s Italian Ices across the street. “He should definitely be recognized.”

Site of proposed Ground Zero mosque may become a museum

The developer who sparked a firestorm in 2010 when he proposed to build a community center with an Islamic prayer room two blocks from Ground Zero announced this week that he plans to turn the property at 45-51 Park Place into a museum of Islamic culture.

A spokesman for the developer, Sharif El-Gamal, told The New York Times that the proposed museum would be three stories high and 5,000 square feet, much smaller than the proposed community center, which was slated to be 15 stories tall and include a swimming pool, basketball court, auditorium, classrooms, and cafe, as well as other attractions.

El-Gamal ran into difficulties finding financing for the community center project, even though the project won the support of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, several 9/11 families, and many Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders. It languished after becoming the target of criticism from right-wing groups, anti-Muslim activists, and several other 9/11 families.

The museum project has already come under fire by anti-Muslim bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, who vigorously fought the community center.

New York court hears appeal of 9/11 detainees

NEW YORK — A government lawyer representing former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former FBI Director Robert Mueller was grilled by a federal appeals court Thursday over questions about their role in the roundup of hundreds of Muslim and Arab men in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

At a hearing of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, Judge Richard C. Wesley expressed disbelief when the Justice Department lawyer, H. Thomas Byron, couldn’t say who decided to put the FBI in charge of a program to detain the men in immigration violations and pressure them to cooperate in the terror investigation.

“Tell me now — who did it?” Wesley demanded.

When Byron said he didn’t know, the judge shot back, “Then maybe the former attorney general of the United States knows. It wasn’t an accident that the FBI took over. … Who made the decision? Someone had to say, ‘It’s the FBI’s call.’”

The hearing stemmed from a decision last year by U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson to dismiss claims against Ashcroft and Mueller in a lawsuit alleging the detainees were abused for months at federal jail in Brooklyn. The judge allowed claims against jail personnel to go forward.

The lawsuit alleges that in the months following 9/11, Ashcroft and Mueller “met regularly with a small group of government officials in Washington and mapped out ways to exert maximum pressure” on detainees and to convince law enforcement that they were suspected terrorists who “needed to be encouraged in any way possible to cooperate.”

Rachel Meeropol argued Thursday that the dragnet resulted in widespread ethnic and religious profiling of innocent men. Once in custody, the men were held in isolation in a high security unit where the lights were never turned off and they were regularly shackled and strip-searched.

“Everyone who was arrested was subjected to maximum pressure,” she said. “It was an investigation with absolutely no vetting.”

Lawyers for Ashcroft and Mueller have claimed the detentions were legal and based on a legitimate law enforcement effort to locate other potential Sept. 11 terror suspects. They argue the pair never specified how the men should be confined, so can’t be held liable for any abuses.

The three-judge panel put off a decision on the issue.

Ex-al-Qaida spokesman recalls 9/11 with bin Laden

March 19, 2014

 

NEW YORK — Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law offered a rare glimpse of the al-Qaida leader in the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, recounting during surprise testimony Wednesday in a Manhattan courtroom how the two met that night in a cave in Afghanistan.

“Did you learn about what happened … the attacks on the United States?” the son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, recalled bin Laden asking him.

The testimony came as Abu Ghaith’s trial on charges he conspired to kill Americans and aid al-Qaida as a spokesman for the terrorist group took a dramatic turn. His decision to take the witness stand was announced by his lawyer, Stanley Cohen, who surprised a nearly empty courtroom that quickly filled with spectators as word spread.

Abu Ghaith testified that bin Laden seemed worried that night and asked what he thought would happen next. Abu Ghaith said he predicted America “will not settle until it accomplishes two things: to kill you and topple the state of the Taliban.”

Bin Laden responded: “’You’re being too pessimistic,’” Abu Ghaith recalled.

Abu Ghaith said he wasn’t involved in recruiting aspiring terrorists and denied allegations that he had prior knowledge of the failed shoe-bomb airline attack by Richard Reid in December 2001.

His lawyers said they were hopeful that another part of Abu Ghaith’s testimony, that he had met self-professed Sept. 11 architect Khalid Sheik Mohammed, would cause the federal judge overseeing the trial to reconsider his decision to exclude Mohammed from testifying via videotape from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Washington Post.com: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/ex-al-qaida-spokesman-to-testify-at-new-york-trial/2014/03/19/2b2b3a5a-af71-11e3-b8b3-44b1d1cd4c1f_story.html

9/11 Islamist from Hamburg

February 28, 2014

 

In December 2001, German security service supported the CIA to kidnap the Islamist Mohammed Haydar Zammar,52. He had lived in Hamburg for many years and was suspected to be a key figure within the 9/11 Hamburg terror cell of Muhammad Atta. He was brought to Syria and stayed in jail for the last twelve years. According to an Arab news portal, the Islamist militia “Ahrar ash-Sham” released Zammar during an operation in autumn 2013 from the prison in Aleppo. The militia has offered him and five further „political prisoners“ for exchange.

 

German security authorities seek to locate Zammar, who went to hiding but contacted relatives in Hamburg and Aleppo. Zammar cannot be arrested again, as the statue of all charges against him is barred after ten years.

 

In 1971, Zammar moved from Aleppo to Hamburg. In 1982, he became a German citizen and moved to Afghanistan to join the Mujaheddin. In 1991, Zammar travelled again to Afghanistan and Bosnia to show other activists how to work with explosives. He became a radical preacher in Hamburg and was in touch with the pilots of September 11th, Muhammad Atta und Zuad Jarrah. Despite of his close relationship to the Islamists terrorists, Zammar denied any involvement or to be informed about the terror plot.

 

However, the case is peculiar for German security authorities and former government officials. The Office of the German Chancellor was informed about all plans related to the kidnapping of Zammar, a German citizen, to Syria. Zammar claims to be tortured under Syrian custody and questioned by German authorities.

 

(Süddeutsche Zeitung)

http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/hamburger-islamist-zammar-verschleppt-verhaftet-ausgetauscht-1.1901694

 

Mastermind of 9/11 says Koran ‘forbids’ violence to spread Islam

January 10, 2014

 

The self-proclaimed mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has released a manifesto claiming that the Koran forbids the use of violence to spread Islam. The document, published Tuesday by The Huffington Post and Britain’s Channel 4 News, marks Mohammed’s first public communication since 2009, when the US government officially accused him of terrorism.

In a major departure from his previous position, Mohammed said that “the Holy Koran forbids us to use force as a means of converting!” He also tried in the 36-page document to convince his American captors, prosecutors, lawyers and members of his military tribunal to convert to Islam.

“It is my religious duty in dealing with any non-Muslims such as the people in the court (the judge, the prosecution, attorneys, etc.) to invite them to embrace Islam,” Mohammed wrote.

“I realise very well that you have heard about Islam and know much about it. But it is my own belief that Allah will ask me on the Day of Judgment why I did not invite these people to Islam?”

Mohammed said he was “very happy” in his cell, adding: “My spirit is free even while my body is being held captive.”

Mohammed said he has been “neither sad nor distressed” in his confinement “because I have been with the Only One True God.”

The document was declassified last month by military judge James Pohl.

Defence lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment

 

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/10574052/Mastermind-of-911-says-Koran-forbids-violence-to-spread-Islam.html

How Tarek Mehanna Went to Prison for a Thought Crime

December 31, 2014

By Amna Akbar

 

As the government embraces a “counter-radicalization” approach to counterterrorism, prosecutors are turning radical beliefs into criminal acts.

Since 9/11, the Department of Justice has prosecuted more than 500 terrorism cases, yet there remains scant public understanding of what these federal cases have actually looked like and the impact they have had on communities and families. Published by The Nation in collaboration with Educators for Civil Liberties, the America After 9/11 series features contributions from scholars, researchers and advocates to provide a systematic look at the patterns of civil rights abuses in the United States’ domestic “war on terror.”

From mosques to Muslim Student Association offices, American Muslim community spaces have been emptied of their politics, leeched of their dynamism as centers for religious and political debate. This new normal is the result of ten years of post-9/11 scrutiny combined with our government’s more recent embrace of “counter-radicalization” and “countering violent extremism” programs, which subject Muslim communities’ religious and political practices to aggressive surveillance, regulation and criminalization.

In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department helped seed radicalization theory, giving rise to an elaborate lattice of counterterrorism practices that touch on all aspects of Muslim life. From the NYPD’s infamous Demographics Unit, which created maps of Muslim communities in New York and New Jersey, to the FBI’s aggressive use of informants in mosques and community institutions, to the White House’s push for community engagement with Muslims, and the Department of Justice’s increasing emphasis on prosecuting speech activity, counter-radicalization and countering violent extremism, these policies have warped the basic currents of Muslim experience, turning them into threat indicators for the nation’s security.

Governments, including our own, laud these programs as soft counterterrorism measures. But this framing misses the shadowy side of these all-encompassing programs: the way counter-radicalization distends the government’s reach into the sacred and vulnerable turf of difference, debate, and democracy.

The rise of counter-radicalization and fall of the First Amendment

In recent years, journalists, advocates and Muslim community activists have helped expose part of the raw underbelly of the government’s counter-radicalization and countering violent extremism programs. But one area that has gone largely unexplored is the Justice Department’s growing embrace of a counter-radicalization ethos to prosecute national security cases. In framing expressions of political and religious belief as precursors to, and even evidence of, terrorism, these cases represent some of the most dramatic and alarming challenges in decades to the First Amendment’s core protections of free speech and freedom of religion.

The government’s prosecution of Tarek Mehanna is not the only case where prosecutors focused on speech the government finds unsavory. Zachary Chesser and Jesse Morton were two Muslim converts—Chesser in his early 20s from Virginia, and Morton in his early 30s from Brooklyn—charged in 2010 and 2012 with material support, conspiracy, and Internet-use-related charges, for posts to RevolutionMuslim.com and other Muslim-run websites; the government was centrally concerned with web ranting against South Park’s depiction of Muhammad. In 2011, Jubair Ahmad, a 24-year-old Pakistani-born US legal permanent resident living in Virginia, was charged with material support for preparing a video containing a prayer in support of jihad on behalf of Lashkar-i-Taiba, a South Asia–based designated terrorist organization.

 

The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/article/177750/how-tarek-mehanna-went-prison-thought-crime#

CIA made doctors torture suspected terrorists after 9/11, taskforce finds

November 3, 2013

 

Doctors were asked to torture detainees for intelligence gathering, and unethical practices continue, review concludes Doctors and psychologists working for the US military violated the ethical codes of their profession under instruction from the defence department and the CIA to become involved in the torture and degrading treatment of suspected terrorists, an investigation has concluded.

The report of the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centres concludes that after 9/11, health professionals working with the military and intelligence services “designed and participated in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees”.

Medical professionals were in effect told that their ethical mantra “first do no harm” did not apply, because they were not treating people who were ill.

The report lays blame primarily on the defence department (DoD) and the CIA, which required their healthcare staff to put aside any scruples in the interests of intelligence gathering and security practices that caused severe harm to detainees, from waterboarding to sleep deprivation and force-feeding.

The CIA’s office of medical services played a critical role in advising the justice department that “enhanced interrogation” methods, such as extended sleep deprivation and waterboarding, which are recognised as forms of torture, were medically acceptable. CIA medical personnel were present when waterboarding was taking place, the taskforce says.

Although the DoD has taken steps to address concerns over practices at Guantánamo Bay in recent years, and the CIA has said it no longer has suspects in detention, the taskforce says that these “changed roles for health professionals and anaemic ethical standards” remain.

“The American public has a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional ethical expectations is firm regardless of where they serve,” said Dr Gerald Thomson, professor of medicine emeritus at Columbia University and member of the taskforce.

 

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/04/cia-doctors-torture-suspected-terrorists-9-11