TAMPA — Local Muslims welcomed the end of Osama bin Laden — the terrorist who "hijacked our religion" — but aren't celebrating another death in what some said is a decade of persecution against Islam.
"Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer of Muslims," said local Muslim advocate Ahmed Bedier. "Islam is an American religion … and we join our fellow Americans at this defining moment.
"However," Bedier continued. "It's 91/2 years too late. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Muslims lamented the civilians lost in the 10-year hunt for bin Laden. But they also called Sunday "a day of justice," as many of al-Qaida's victims were Muslim.
From 2004 to 2008, 85 percent of the terrorist group's 3,010 victims were from Muslim countries, according to a study by West Point scholars.
Others said only one sentiment prevailed: relief.
"I'm not going to say I'm happy he's dead, but I'm happy he's gone," said Zuhair Alabbasi, a 47-year-old Palestinian, outside the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area, a mosque and community center. "We only hope this helps ends the war."
Some said the early reaction of relatives and friends in the Middle East was similar: "Shock and surprise. People are not necessarily celebrating, but they're relieved," Bedier said. "There's a sense of unity that a chapter is closing."
Alabbasi's 16-year-old son, Najee, said there were "mixed emotions" in school, where students memorize the Koran. Some classmates rejoiced, he said, but most were skeptical — maybe an offshoot of growing up Muslim in post-Sept. 11 America.
"Unless there's some photo evidence. … It's been said before: he's killed, then he's alive, then he's killed," Najee Alabbasi said. "Only God knows whether he's dead or alive."
Local Muslim leaders used the event to push for a more targeted, less militant foreign policy.
Bedier and representatives from the Tampa chapters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim American Society praised the U.S. approach to killing bin Laden — a precise attack without civilian deaths. He said if America proceeds similarly in its war against terror, it will breed less hatred, and thus fewer future terrorists.
Several Muslims worried celebrations over bin Laden's death could turn anti-Muslim.
"There's a lot of idiots out there," said Alan Algary, an Iraqi who has lived in the Unites States since 1980.
Zuhair Alabbasi said bin Laden's death could spell danger "from both sides — al-Qaida may want to retaliate, and at the same time, the reaction here might be to lash back at Muslims."
Jack Nicas can be reached at (813) 226-3401 or email@example.com.