Muslims' key role in snagging terror suspect

Published Jan. 10, 2012

It was the Muslim community that helped the FBI snag terror suspect Sami Osmakac, the man accused of planning to bomb public buildings in the Tampa Bay area. That should not be forgotten as this case unfolds. Too often the threats of an extremist are extended to the broader Muslim community, which can lead to prejudice and discrimination. Just look at the objections to the Muslim leader who was invited to speak at a Hillsborough high school history class. Osmakac's case is a reminder that the Muslim community often partners with law enforcement, identifying dangerous extremists. The nation would be less safe without that help.

The allegations against Osmakac, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Kosovo, are stunning. According to the federal complaint, Osmakac plotted to carry out car bomb attacks, including at nightclubs in Ybor City. His intention, according to the FBI, was to do something "terrifying" in order to avenge the perceived mistreatment of Muslims. But Osmakac was considered no friend of the Tampa Bay Muslim community. His extremist rhetoric and intimidating behavior had already made him an outcast.

Osmakac was apparently banned by two area mosques, and police were called by the Islamic Society of Pinellas County, a mosque in Pinellas Park, to issue a trespass warning against him. Ahmed Bedier, founder of United Voices for America, a nonprofit group promoting Muslim participation in politics, said that he reported Osmakac to police and the FBI due to his behavior. And thanks to an informant, who contacted the FBI in September to say that Osmakac had come to his or her business trying to find a flag that represented al-Qaida, Osmakac fully registered on the FBI's radar, according to the federal complaint. That informant became a linchpin of the investigation, introducing Osmakac to a connection who was an FBI undercover agent, so federal agents could track his activities.

It is these efforts by the larger Muslim community to subdue Osmakac and alert authorities that should stick in the mind when his name gets mentioned. That would help to prevent another distasteful incident like the one at Steinbrenner High School in Hillsborough County.

After history teacher Kelly Miliziano invited Hassan Shibly of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to speak to her class about stereotypes, human rights and other topics, an objection was raised. David Caton of the Florida Family Association, a one-man force of anti-Muslim bigotry, wants the Hillsborough County School Board to end visits by Shibly. Recently Caton launched a campaign against the reality television series All-American Muslim that resulted in some advertisers dropping the show. His anti-Muslim views are well-known and should be disregarded, which appears to be what the Hillsborough School Board intends to do.

The Osmakac case will bring out the fearmongers like Caton who will use it to spread venomous claims about all Muslims. But what it really demonstrates is that all Americans face the threat of terrorism together and will defeat it together, too.