Raleigh, N.C. — Representatives of the Triangle Muslim community said Tuesday that the public shouldn't judge seven men federal authorities have accused of being terrorists until the case goes to trial.
Federal agents rounded up the men Monday at various area locations after a grand jury indicted them last week on charges they conspired over the last three years to provide resources to terrorists overseas. The indictment alleges several of them went to Israel in 2007 to engage in "violent jihad" and returned home only after their mission failed.
"Anytime someone from the Muslim community is indicted on charges, it affects all of us," said Khalilah Sabra, state executive director of the Muslim American Society. "We know that Islam is always under a microscope, and these types of situations cause the religion to be misinterpreted."
Sabra and Jihad Shawwa, an official with the Muslim American Public Affairs Council, said people should allow the case to play out in court before judging the defendants – or their religion.
"We do believe in the justice system in this country, although it's not the Bible, it's not the Qur'an and it's not the Torah," Shawwa said.
Muslims take the charges against the men seriously and want them prosecuted if the evidence against them supports the government's allegations, Sabra said.
"It's not one for all and all for one," she said. "If a Muslim is indicted on any charge – whether it's for grand theft auto or terrorism – we believe that the justice system has to do what it has to do, and we support the justice system in doing that."
Still, she said, Muslims don't want to be unfairly characterized by the public, and officials don't want people to assume the men are guilty before all of the facts in the case come out.
"We're asking for fair and impartial justice," she said. "We don't want a rush to judgment. We want every charge they're indicted with to be looked at, to be weighed, to be explained in a court of law, and let a jury come to its determination."
The Muslim community doesn't support extremist views, Sabra said, although she said she recognizes that some members of her religion might harbor such views.
"If someone has a particular ideology, and they choose to practice that ideology in extreme ways, we as the Muslim community and organizations have nothing to do with that," she said. "We all have a responsibility – non-Muslim and Muslim alike – for curing these things and entering into dialog so that these incidents don't occur and there are no future allegations."
U.S. Attorney George Holding issued a statement Tuesday saying that the arrests shouldn't be construed as an indictment against Islam.
"We are fortunate to have such a rich and diverse culture in North Carolina. The Islamic faith is vital in this state, as many Muslims serve as soldiers, police officers, doctors, teachers and scholars," Holding said. "These arrests pertain to certain people who did certain things that we believe rose to a level of a serious crime, not because of their religious beliefs."