They were wrapped up in peaceful prayer when the man walked into the mosque and claimed he had a gun. The imam leading the prayer at the Ibrahim Khalilullah Islamic Center in Fremont told police that the Caucasian man, believed to be in his 30s, shouted that he was going to kill the four people inside.
It happened just before 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Islamic Center on the 43,000 block of Osgood Road, just a couple blocks away from the Fremont Fry’s location. When the imam approached the man, he reportedly drove away in a gray, 90s model Camry.
Mosque leaders are working closely with Fremont police and say they’ve already handed over footage from some of the seven surveillance cameras inside the building, which is located in the very back of an industrial area. The motive is still unclear, although many mosque board members told NBC Bay Area they did not believe it was a botched robbery attempt. Still, Mohammed Zarabi, IKIC Board President, was reluctant to draw any connection between the threat and his religion.
“This never happened, so to me this is a minor thing that happens everywhere,” Zarabi said. “Not a big deal to me. Hopefully, it won’t happen again. Fortunately, nothing happened. Just a person here and he’s gone.”
But it was a very different reaction about five miles away in Fremont’s Centerville District, along a strip known as “Little Kabul.”
Wais Omar, owner of “De Afghanan Restaurant,” said it was scary and “a wake-up call.” Omar added that there’s been the same constant fear plaguing him and his loved ones in America since the Sept. 11 attacks – a fear that’s risen in light of the mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin back in August, as well as the Portland mall shooting that left two victims and the gunman dead on Tuesday.
“In a restaurant sometimes, to be honest, I’m afraid of that, too, because it could happen here, anywhere,” Omar said. “Some crazy guy maybe walks in without thinking about what he’s doing, just shoots people.”
Omar and those at the mosque agreed that one of the worst problems is the continuing misunderstanding and misconception of what Islam, which literally translates into “peace,” is truly about.
“It has been misunderstood, especially in America because we don’t have that many Muslims in this area,” said Fareed Wardak, an IKIC board member. “Due to the events happening around the world, it’s probably misunderstood.”
“Islam is peace. Islam is not something to hurt people,” added Omar. “With all these things you see going on around the world, has nothing to do with Islam. It has to do with politics and people using the name of Islam and do bad things, and hurt people.”
Omar left Afghanistan for the United States in 1979 after losing his brother and several other family members to battles against the Communists. 33 years later, he said he’s still waiting for the day when he can leave behind all the fear of being attacked.
“We have the same heart and same thinking. [We want to] live a normal life, raise our children, have our American dream, too, just like everybody else.”