Perhaps communities should think twice before approving any more plans for future mosques.
NorthJersey.com It took more than 50 police officers, including the SWAT team and the Passaic County bomb squad, more than five hours on Thursday morning to determine that the phoned threat of a man with a pipe bomb and assault weapon about to attack the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson was a crank call.
About 220 Muslims who were offering pre-dawn prayers were evacuated from the mosque shortly after 4 a.m., as swarms of police and armored units descended on the city’s Eastside in Paterson’s first known incidence of what’s called “swatting.”
Although the emergency was treated as real and the massive response was paid for by the taxpayers, no shooter and no explosives were found inside the building. In the end, it was just another costly swatting incident.
“It was an absolute false alarm,” Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale said, adding that authorities will now try to find the perpetrators. “At this point, there will be a criminal investigation.”
Costs for law enforcement officers’ time and equipment haven’t been tallied yet, officials said. Each case summoned an urgent police and SWAT response that police officials say poses a danger to the public and to law enforcement officers.
Passaic County Sheriff Richard H. Berdnik added the incident at the mosque was a potential bias crime and an attack on religious freedom. “They should be free to worship without compromise,” Berdnik said.
Worshipers gathered at the mosque around 4 a.m. to begin their daily ritual of prayers before sunrise. But just as the prayer service was beginning, Paterson police phoned the imam, the mosque’s leader, and told him to evacuate the Islamic center, located on Broadway near East 33rd Street.
“We were told that someone was threatening that they were going to come to the mosque with assault weapons,” said Nabil Abbassi, the chairman of the board of trustees for the Islamic center.
The evacuation was orderly and no one was injured. Police did not enter the mosque, but SWAT teams set up a perimeter and the bomb squad was called in. Worshipers continued their prayers on a lawn across the street.
It took police more than five hours to search the building, using a bomb-sniffing dog and a robot to search for explosives. At one point, the K-9 unit came outside and went up and down rows of cars parked at the mosque. When nothing was found, people were let back inside around 9:30 a.m. The bomb squad left, but police maintained a presence at the mosque for much of the day.
Aside from Paterson police and the sheriff’s department, some of the roughly 50 law enforcement officers who responded are with the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office, the FBI, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Several armored vehicles were dispatched to the mosque and a police helicopter flew overhead.
“At first, I thought it was real,” said Issam El Jitan, 16, who said seeing so many police officers arriving at once was jarring. El Jitan said Muslims feel vulnerable to attack, given that what he called “Islamophobia” appears to be on the rise in America. (One can only hope)