Arrested Americans' Muslim Community Takes Action Leaders and relatives thought they were doing everything right, but when five young men went missing, tough decisions had to be made.
NPR logo

Arrested Americans' Muslim Community Takes Action

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Arrested Americans' Muslim Community Takes Action

Arrested Americans' Muslim Community Takes Action

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Intelligence officials in Pakistan said today that the five young American men detained there earlier this week have been taken to a facility for terror suspects in Lahore for further questioning. Back home in Northern Virginia, the young men had betrayed no hints of extremism. They suddenly left their families in the Washington, D.C., area and turned up in Pakistan, where authorities believe they were looking to gain entry to terrorist training camps.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay went to Alexandria, Virginia, to learn how the community's reacting.

Mr. MOSTEFA MARIAM(ph): It was like, you know, an earthquake just hit us. I mean, we're just stunned, bubble-eyed(ph).

JAMIE TARABAY: Mostefa Mariam leads the mosque's youth group. He met with the young men every week. They prayed at a single-story building just off Route 1. It's surrounded by car dealerships and a Firestone tire shop. It was supposed to be a place Muslim leaders like Mariam could protect the community's kids.

Mr. MARIAM: We'd rather have you at the mosque than in the street; we'd rather you have and be in a positive environment than with thugs, you know?

TARABAY: But those thugs weren't on the street; they were apparently online. According to reports, the five young men were radicalized after watching YouTube videos and communicating on social networking sites. Mariam didn't see hints in any of this. He sees more truth in the reports that the men, devout Muslims, had traveled to Pakistan to find wives.

Mr. MARIAM: As far as I know, they're all virgin kids. You know, everybody dreams about the day that they'll get married and so many conversations, so many discussions about marriage. You know, again, that makes more sense to me than this stuff I'm hearing.

TARABAY: At the mosque's youth group, Mariam tried to bring the young people together to protect them. They played basketball and soccer, went to movies and meals together, and yet it didn't work.

Mr. MATTHEW BRAY (Muslim-American Society): This is, indeed, a wake-up call.

TARABAY: Matthew Bray is a spokesman for the Muslim-American Society, a national Muslim organization.

Mr. BRAY: We are determined not to let religious extremists exploit the vulnerability of our young people's emotions.

TARABAY: Yet this is a community that thought it was doing everything right. There was the youth group. One of them was studying to be a dentist. And as soon as it was clear that something was wrong, that their kids were missing, the parents and local leaders contacted the FBI.

For one of them, Isam Telawi(ph), that was not an easy thing to do.

Mr. ISAM TELAWI: I was so anxious and so nervous I'm going to meet with FBI agents. And I should say, nobody would describe this as a pleasant experience.

TARABAY: Muslim-Americans say their mosques are still treated with suspicion, even all these years after the 9/11 attacks. The conflict over whether to say anything - and even if they do, whether anyone will listen - is something Muslims constantly struggle with.

Mr. SALAM MARAYATI (Muslim Public Affairs Council): So there's actually a problem of exclusion.

TARABAY: That's Salam Marayati, from the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Mosques, he says, should no longer be marginalized or stigmatized.

Mr. MARAYATI: We, the United States, have a major asset in the war on terror that is not being utilized, and that is the mosques and Muslim Americans in general.

TARABAY: Muslim leaders are touting this case as a success, though, because the families felt comfortable enough to contact the authorities, and law-enforcement agencies reciprocated. More understanding between the two will only benefit everyone, they say. Here's Isam Telawi again.

Mr. TELAWI: I think they came to know that our community is a law-abiding community. We are good citizens. We are the one who approached the authority. We the one who went to them, and we tell them there's something wrong and we need your help.

TARABAY: Community leaders believe that the mosque is part of the solution, not the problem. But they admit they cannot supervise every aspect of a young man's life.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.