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Officials Plead for Tolerance as 9/11 Anniversary Nears

September 08, 2006|Sam Quinones | Times Staff Writer

Southern California law enforcement officials joined religious leaders Thursday in urging peace and calm in advance of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"This weekend, it's important that we as people of faith say once again that responding to violence with violence is not the answer," said Chris Ponnet, a Catholic priest and spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Ponnet spoke at a local gathering sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Southern California.

Also in attendance were representatives from the Arab American and Sikh communities, the FBI and Los Angeles County and city law enforcement agencies.

American Muslim leaders called on members of their own community to take the initiative in improving public perceptions of Islam.

"Every single Muslim must stand up and face the music," said Edina Lekovic, a spokeswoman for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. "9/11 propelled the Muslim American community to take up their responsibility ... to promote a different vision of Islam: to say we stand for life, we stand for mutual coexistence."

The 2001 terrorist attacks that took place in New York, Pennsylvania and Arlington, Va., sparked an increase around the country in attacks against Muslims.

But it also ushered in a new era of cooperation between local Muslim leaders and law enforcement officials.

With their help, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca formed the Muslim-American Homeland Security Congress, which meets regularly to discuss terrorism issues and educate officers about the Muslim community.

"Muslims in America are the first line of defense against terrorism conducted falsely in the name of Islam," said Hussam Ayloush, director of the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

So far, no local terrorist investigations have been prompted by tips from Southland Muslims, but "the key is dialogue," said Warren Bamford, special agent with the FBI's counterterrorism division.

"Then there are many opportunities that will rise," he said.

Ayloush said American Muslims are patriotic and aggrieved by the Sept. 11 attacks.

"They're not isolated, not alienated," he said. "They have no reasons to follow the example of a small segment within the British Muslim community," members of which have been accused of plotting terrorists attacks in England.

Nevertheless, he said, the United States has not understood the roots of Muslim anger around the world.

The country's policies, he said, "promote division, whether by supporting unconditional warfare against Lebanon or invading countries without legitimate pretext."

Still, he said, "American Muslims today are more committed than ever in playing a role in bringing all Americans together. The attacks of Sept. 11 were an attack on all of us."

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sam.quinones@latimes.com

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