By Ray Hanania
UPDATE 2, Friday: Bridgeview Police released the following statement:
Bridgeview Police today interviewed two individuals believed to be involved in an exchange of comments on Facebook that involved allegations of threats made against the Bridgeview Mosque.
Both suspects were interviewed at the Bridgeview Police Headquarters. The names of the persons of interest have not been released by the police and will not be released at this time.
Police Chief Walter Klimek released the following statement:
“At approximately 3:00 pm today, both persons of interest turned themselves into our police department. A separate interview by our detective division and the FBI of both persons of interest determined that, at this time, no charges will be filed,” Klimek said.
“The individuals were released pending further investigation. On Monday a Bridgeview detective will go to the Grand Jury to obtain a subpoena for six months of face book records. From there, a determination will be made if there are any elements of crime in regards to this incident.”
Chief Klimek said he spoke with Oussama Jammal, Vice President of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, and also advised him of the status of the case.
Police will continue to monitor the mosque and the surrounding schools for any additional problems that may arise.
UPDATE 1, Friday: The suspect has been identified only as a 37 year old male who was posting threats on Facebook. Police and FBI have issued a caution throughout Chicagoland to all Mosques and muslim institutions to be aware and on guard.
One of the first mosques to be built in the Chicagoland area, the Mosque Foundation of Bridgeview, Illinois, reportedly was the target of threats police and community officials confirmed Thursday.
Bridgeview Police Chief Walter Klimek said that on Tuesday, threats were made against the Mosque, 7360 W. 93rd Street, on a Facebook post and an individual on the Facebook page who was listed as a “friend” of the poster reported the apparent threat to police officials.
Klimek declined to identify the suspect but said that the Police were working closely with the FBI to investigate the threat.
“We take this seriously,” Klimek said Thursday of the alleged threat.
The Bridgeview Mosque was first built in 1981 on land purchased by American Arabs in 1954. The mosque has been expanded several times and more than 5,000 Muslims pray at the center. The Mosque provides social services to families and individuals in need and also maintains a food pantry for needy families.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Christian, Muslim and Jewish community leaders joined hands at the mosque to confront threats and protests made by individuals angry with the terrorist attacks. Community leaders and Mosque leaders emphasized at the time that they do not support the terrorism and that violence of that kind contradicts the fundamental precepts of Islam.
There are more than 7 million Muslims in the United States and more than 4.5 million Arabs in the United States. The majority of Muslims are non-Arab and the majority of Arabs are Christian. About 450,000 Arabs — Christian and Muslim — live in the six-county Chicagoland region with about 50,000 living in Chicago’s municipal boundaries. About 8 percent of the Chicago school students are Arab.
For a history of American Arab settlement in Chicago and the Chicagoland suburbs, click here.
The largest concentration of Chicagoland Arabs live in the area around the Bridgeview Mosque in School District 230 which includes three high schools, Andrew High school in Tinley Park, Sandburg High school in Orland Park and Stagg High school in Palos Heights. In addition to the Mosque, there is a Christian Arab Church, St. Mary Orthodox Church, 6330 W 127th Street, in Palos Heights.
Today, there are several Mosques in the Chicagoland suburbs including in Northbrook, Villa Park, Morton Grove, and Orland Park.
The second largest concentration of Arabs and Muslims is in downstate Peoria, Illinois. The majority of Arabs and Muslims in the Chicago area are of Palestinian and Jordanian heritage. The majority of the Arabs in the Peoria area are Lebanese.
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued the following press release on the incident:
CAIR-Chicago is working with local law enforcement and the FBI Chicago office on recent social media violent threats against a south suburban mosque.
CAIR-Chicago is advising the Chicago Muslim community to take all threats seriously and ensure that the local police and FBI are contacted in a timely manner to investigate and address any threats. CAIR-Chicago is here to assist you with vetting the credibility of the threat and the proper means of reporting.
Call 911 or your local police department to report any suspicious activity, hate crimes, threatening phone calls, text messages, or emails, or harassment.
These could be individual threats or harassment, or threats against a mosque, school or organization. They could also be direct and specific threats on Facebook, Twitter or other social media.
Mosques, Islamic schools, Muslim organizations, and individuals are recommended to increase security efforts, including during prayer times, school times, and during any special events.
Report any suspicious activity or individuals to the local police (dial 911), and to the mosque or organization.
Report any social media threats (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Email), voicemails, text messages, website attacks/hacks, phone calls, verbal threats, physical threats to the police.
Follow up with CAIR Chicago after making any reports to the police so we can document and ensure threats are being investigated.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. He is President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group and the Village of Bridgeview is a client of his company. Hanania is the author of the book “Arabs of Chicagoland” published by Arcadia Press, 2005.)