US President George W. Bush (R), accompanied by community and religious leaders, speaks during a tour of the Islamic Center of Washington, DC, 17 September 2001. Bush called for an end to violence against Muslims in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks saying, 'the face of terror is not the true faith of Islam.'
WASHINGTON, Sept 18 (AFP) - The murder of an Egyptian-born businessman in the Los Angeles suburb of San Gabriel is the latest in a series of attacks on US Muslims, prompting a stern denunciation from US President George W. Bush.
"Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don't represent the best of America. They represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed," the president said at an Islamic Center here on Monday.
The FBI in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department confirmed Sunday it considered the attack on grocer Adel Karas, 48, to have been motivated by religious hatred.
FBI spokesman Matt McLaughlin said Monday that Karas' murder by three men, who apparently entered his store to rob him late Saturday, would be investigated as a hate crime.
"In our anger and emotion our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect. Moms who wear covering must not be intimidated in America. That's not the America I know; that's not the America I value," Bush said.
The murder of Karas, a Coptic Christian said his family, brings to 41 the number of attacks on Arab-American citizens and institutions the FBI is investigating in the wake of the September 11 terror operation against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which Bush has pinned on Saudi-born extremist Osama bin Laden.
Washington's Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has recorded more than 350 incidents of anti-Muslim harassment, threats, discrimination and violence since last Tuesday.
A 49-year-old Sikh gas station owner was killed in Mesa, Arizona; a Dallas, Texas-area Pakistani Muslim merchant suffered the same fate. In Ohio, a mosque was badly damaged after a car was slammed into a wall.
"I want to make it very clear: vigilante attacks and threats against Arab-Americans will not be tolerated," FBI director Robert Mueller vowed Monday.
But despite the warnings, anti-Muslim and Arab sentiment is rampant, so much so that trials of Arab defendants are being postponed.
A death-penalty trial of an Egyptian refugee charged with the mutilation murder of a 12-year-old in central California has been postponed after 18 of 89 potential jurors reported the horrific attacks on New York and Washington could undermine their ability to be fair.
"In fairness to the defense, I did not want to see my emotions and feelings over the attacks become a part of the trial," said Robert Blum, 50, the first of the potential jurors to admit a bias.
Bush, who removed his shoes before entering the Islamic Center, as is Muslim custom, quoted the Quran during his visit to the center, which has received at least one bomb threat since September 11.
"In the long run, evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil, for that they rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule."
Meanwhile in New York, members of the Afghan community tried to distance itself from the Taliban out of fear of attacks from angry Americans who tar them with the same brush.
"We are with the US side," insists Ghulam Noorzad at the Afghan Masjid-Abubaker mosque in Queens, a district which is home to 5,000 of the 20, 000 Afghan-Americans in the Big Apple.
"We are not for bin Laden," he says, referring to the Saudi-born dissident accused by Washington of masterminding the September 11 kamikaze attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Since last Tuesday's attack, in which more than 5,000 people are believed to have died, the small community has lived in fear.
"We, the Afghans of the US, want the media to make it clear. We're not the Taliban. The Taliban don't represent Afghanistan. We live in this country and today we feel more American than ever," stresses Imam Mohammad Sherzad.
Their grief-stricken neighbors have shown little hostility so far, and the mosque is under police surveillance around the clock. But elsewhere in the city and the country Afghans, Arabs and Indians have been insulted, stoned, beaten, and had their car tires slashed, Noorzad points out.
In last Friday's prayers, Sherzad urged his followers to stay calm, continue their Muslim practices, and carry on life as normal. He also advised them -- "as a precaution" -- not to go out at night or in groups.
Hadji Zaker, an elderly Afghan, did not heed the warning. Instead he told his wife not to wear her all-enveloping veil, or burka, when she leaves the house.
Fatana Shirzad, 26, has also changed her habits, scared of being cornered on the street. "We don't do the regular thing. We stay home," she says.
Shirzad, who fled to the United States as an eight-year-old refugee, has made the brutal discovery that the country she thought was safe is also vulnerable to attack by an outside enemy.
"It reminded me when we were home and suddenly the Russian bombs came to Kabul. You go somewhere to be safe and suddenly you're not," she shudders. Her elderly neighbor bursts into tears.
America's Afghans are also terrified for the fate of the relatives they left behind in Kabul if the US army launches a war on the Taliban -- even if some, like Noorzad, say they would understands an offensive against bin Laden.
"We all have relatives, family there," says Shirzad. "There were innocent people killed here and now they could face the same."