A Sting and a Prayer | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A Sting and a Prayer

Questions surround an FBI mosque raid

In the Light of the Age mosque, on a small North Side street, a library door that was once nailed shut is now pushed in, hanging by a bottom corner. The door to a women's prayer room has a jagged hole through its middle, and the lock to the women's entrance door is busted from its doorframe.


These are the results, say mosque officials, of a FBI raid conducted June 30 ... an hour and a half after federal agents had arrested their alleged target. Mosque officials and others in the Muslim and North Side communities are denouncing the raid, and questioning its necessity. Witnesses say it involved half-a-dozen law-enforcement vehicles and two dozen federal officials.

The raid follows at least five alleged incidents of mosque members being questioned by law enforcement for unknown reasons, as chronicled last year by City Paper (Main Feature, "Lost in Translation," Feb. 24, 2005).


Tahir Abdullah, assistant director of the mosque, says he witnessed the arrest of Larry M. Williams, of Lincoln-Lemington, a Muslim who Abdullah says has been worshipping at the mosque for "years." Abdullah witnessed the arrest just outside the mosque, and was one of six men detained an hour-and-a-half later, while the mosque was searched.


"The six of us were on the porch" and on the steps of the mosque, he says, when agents blocked off the street. "They aggressively hopped out of their cars, weapons drawn, [saying] 'FBI, hands up. Get across the street, get against the wall.'" None of the six were handcuffed.

"They proceeded to raid the house," Abdullah adds. No one was inside the three-story structure at the time.


In a July 7 statement, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan alleged that Williams had been arrested on a warrant issued after state police in Utah allegedly found him with "parts of a .45 Cal Beretta pistol" and ammunition. A prior rape conviction prohibits Williams from possessing a gun or ammo, contends Buchanan, who also alleges that Williams was being sought for not registering as a sex offender under Megan's Law.


After taking Williams into custody, Buchanan's statement reads, "Agents then executed a legal search warrant issued for the location where Williams was staying."


"We were here to do what we had to do, which was to arrest this person," FBI spokesperson Jeff Killeen says. Agents checked the mosque for weapons "to make sure everybody was safe. And when we were done we left."


The building also houses the Sankore Institute of Islamic African Studies, whose manuscripts line the library. At a July 7 press conference, mosque director Luqmann Abdu'salaam described Sankore as a "nonprofit, nonpolitical" organization which offers "free classes on Islamic principles ... community clean-up, clothing and food for the poor."


He and other mosque officials questioned whether law enforcement would have entered a church or synagogue at a time of prayer. The mosque raid is " an incident of racial and religious profiling," Abdu'salaam said.


Other groups, including the area's Nation of Islam mosque, also appeared at the conference to object to the raid. Some compared it to raids on black groups during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and previously.


"It's very indicative of the federal government's strategy [in] this so-called war against terror," says Khari Mosley, a North Side Democratic ward chair and head of the League of Young Voters. "It's troubling when houses of worship are targeted. It's an egregious misuse of federal funds ... when right around the corner narcotics are being peddled."


The building also houses a lounge area with couch, computer, boom box, water cooler and more books; a kitchen; and men's and women's prayer halls upstairs. Reporters were not allowed to see the third floor, which mosque officials said contained a bathroom and a shuttered computer room.


"We suspected they took something, though we have no inventory list" from the FBI, says Abdullah.


Leaving such a list is standard practice, says Killeen, though he would not address its absence in the North Side raid.