Oklahoma bombing – When Arabs were blamed for homegrown attack

Washington: Survivors and loved ones of the 168 people who were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing were not able to gather Sunday – due to pandemic lockdown – to mark the 25th anniversary of the attack, but that did not stop them from remembering the then deadliest terror attack the US had ever seen. It remains the worst committed by an American on US soil.

Shortly after the explosion, news reports said two men of “Middle Eastern” appearance were being sought for questioning. And a short time later, a Jordanian American from Oklahoma was stopped in London and spirited by authorities back to the United States for questioning, the Los Angeles Times said.

The incident dates back to 19th April 1995.

Attacker outraged at U.S Govt

According to Independent, McVeigh – the attacker – was apparently angry at the US government over the Waco Seige, in Texas, in 1993. In the seige, FBI had surrounded a ranch occupied by a religious cult – Branch Davidians.

Suspecting the group of stockpiling illegal weapons Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) attempted to raid the ranch which resulted in an intense gun battle erupted, which killed 86 people – many of them children. Many were burned to death. The siege ended on 19 April, 1993, two years to the day before the Oklahoma attack.

He was similarly incensed by the 1992 Ruby Ridge incident, when agents surrounded the Idaho home of Randy Weaver – U.S. Army engineer – and launched an 11-day siege that resulted in the deaths of his wife and children.

Oklahoma Attack

McVeigh along with Terry Nichols, killed 168 people in the bombing incident and injured more than 600 in Oklahoma. The bomb wrecked scores of buildings and left a large hole in the ground.

The site is now occupied by a memorial – the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.

Arabs blamed for attack

Despite cautions from President Clinton not to stereotype a particular ethnic or religious group, Muslims across the country reported hundreds of threats.

A report in FAIR said:

“The betting here is on Middle East terrorists,” declared CBS News‘ Jim Stewart just hours after the blast (4/19/95).

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“The fact that it was such a powerful bomb in Oklahoma City immediately drew investigators to consider deadly parallels that all have roots in the Middle East,” ABC‘s John McWethy proclaimed the same day.

“It has every single earmark of the Islamic car-bombers of the Middle East,” wrote syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer (Chicago Tribune, 4/21/95).

“Whatever we are doing to destroy Mideast terrorism, the chief terrorist threat against Americans, has not been working,” declared the New York Times‘ A.M. Rosenthal (4/21/95).

The Geyer and Rosenthal columns were filed after the FBI released sketches of two suspects who looked more like Midwestern frat boys.

Nor were pundits shy about drawing policy conclusions from their speculations. Restrictions on immigration was a popular rallying cry Other policy recommendations had a more bloodthirsty tone.

An op-ed in New York Newsday by Jeff Kamen (4/20/95) complained that officials had ignored “a sizable community of Islamic fundamentalist militants in Oklahoma City,” and urged that military special forces be used against “potential terrorists”: “Shoot them now, before they get us,” he demanded.

Syndicated columnist Mike Royko wrote (Chicago Tribune, 4/21/95):

I would have no objection if we picked out a country that is a likely suspect and bombed some oil fields, refineries, bridges, highways, industrial complexes. . . . If it happens to be the wrong country, well, too bad, but it’s likely it did something to deserve it anyway.

“It was as if we were accomplices to what happened in Oklahoma City, while all we wanted to do was unite with other Americans in the healing process,” said Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council told Los Angeles Times.

Civil engineer Sameer Etman considers most of his colleagues well-educated, decent people. Nonetheless, the morning of the bombing as he arrived at work, “Someone said, ‘Where were you this morning?’ “–a tasteless joke meant to imply a connection to the bombing.

“I’m 50 years old,” said the Egyptian-born Etman, now a U.S. citizen. “I’ve been here 26 years. The person who said this to me is 23. I’m more of a citizen than he is.”

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The Islamic Center had logged about a dozen harassment phone calls since Wednesday afternoon, according to Salam Al-Marayati.

“ ‘Baby killers.’ . . . ‘What are you Muslims doing now? You should all be run out of town.’ . . . ‘You are animals.’ . . .” Al-Marayati ticked them off as he waited for prayers to begin. Outside, private security guards watched the doors to the center, reported the Los Angeles Times.

“This is not the first time in American history when this has happened. Every time there is some type of violence in the United States, immediately we tend to look at the Middle East and blame the Islamic extremists,” he said.

The Islamic Center of San Diego had received eight threatening calls within hours of the bombing. One caller said the center would be blown up Friday if it was proved that Arabs were responsible for the Oklahoma bombing.

In Orange County, gates were locked around the Islamic Society-run school in Garden Grove because parents feared their children might be in danger. A carwash planned for Sunday was canceled.

“I’m scared. I really am,” said Kathy Abdelmaksoud, mother of two children who attend the Crescent School.

“Every time something happens, they go after the Muslims. How do we know they’re not going to come here? Yeah, I’m worried about my kids,” she said Thursday.

As Muslims went to mosques and Islamic centers on Friday, two prayers were on their lips.

“We prayed for those who are innocent victims of the disaster in Oklahoma City,” said Anwar Khan, fund-raising coordinator for Islamic Relief Worldwide in Downey. “We also pray that America will keep its tradition of accepting other faiths and other creeds.”

Attacker sentenced to death

McVeigh was sentenced to death and was executed in 2001. Nichols was sentenced to life without parole and remains in jail.

A third man,  Michael Fortier was sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined him $200,000, for failing to warn the authorities of his former army friend’s plan.

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