“We’re going to burn your mosque down,” a voice said angrily in a voicemail left on the mosque’s phone.
“We’re coming to kill you,” another said.
This was just one of eight terrifying voicemails left at the Islamic Center of Passaic County (ICPC) in New Jersey less than 24 hours after a driver plowed a Home Depot rental truck into a bike path in lower Manhattan, killing eight people and injuring 12 others. Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old native of Uzbekistan, has been charged in the killings.
One caller left three voicemails, saying he was angry and wanted revenge, even though this Muslim community had no relation to or contact with Saipov. He just happened to share the same faith as the congregants at ICPC.
Omar Awad, the president of ICPC, called police. The Paterson Police Department, the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office and federal authorities, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, are working with the mosque to try to trace the threatening calls.
Unfortunately for this community, and for many other Muslims, this isn’t the first time they have dealt with such hostile backlash. In fact, it’s a routine that’s all too common and will likely continue.
“People are saddened that they have to deal with another heinous act like this again and the consequences of it,” Awad told HuffPost. “The community feels like they need to carry on the shoulders a response and justify a response, to say we are not like the attacker.”
“With all these threats, it doesn’t matter how well you deal with it. You hope that none of it actually materializes into an actual event,” Awad said.
Hate crimes against Muslims have skyrocketed in recent years, and too often they increase after an attack by a self-described Muslim. Muslims often find themselves in limbo, distancing themselves from the attack in lower Manhattan, which has been linked to terrorism, while bracing for attacks against their own communities.
On average, nine mosques have been targeted every month for the first six months of 2017.
Earlier this year, a man was charged with setting fire to a mosque that the Orlando, Florida, nightclub shooter had visited. Joseph Schreiber, a Florida ex-convict who was sentenced to 30 years in prison, had posted on Facebook about a month after the June 12, 2016, massacre that “All Islam is radical” and that all Muslims should be treated as terrorists and criminals.
Just a week after the Dec. 2, 2015, mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, carried out by a Muslim couple, a man threw a Molotov cocktail into a Coachella Valley mosque, about 70 miles from San Bernardino.
The Coachella Valley firebombing led the Islamic Center of Central Jersey (ISCJ) to decide it should step up its security. The South Brunswick Township mosque’s property also includes an Islamic school, Noor-Ul-Iman. Soon after the San Bernardino massacre, ISCJ spent more than $150,000 for increased security, including posting a guard 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Over the last year, we saw this rising trend of backlashes against mosques after terrorist attacks,” said Sarah Saleem, an ISCJ board member. “We feel better now, but it came at a cost.” (HuffPost is not using the board member’s real name in order to protect her and her family.)
She’s grateful the mosque did spend that much money. Like the Paterson mosque, ISCJ also recently received a frightening voicemail. The caller used a program to disguise the voice. Still, board members at the mosque were able to make out the words “I want to kill” and “ISIS,” phrases that were alarming enough that they immediately called the police.