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‘We shouldn’t be attacked’

Muslim students and faculty said they are praying for answers. They don?t want the nation not to jump to conclusions about Tuesday?s pronged attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

?We shouldn?t be segregated or attacked because of what others do,? said Rose Munoz, a USF junior and vice president for the Muslim Student Association.

She said once news of the suicide bombings spread, campus Muslims were in a ?state of panic.? Fearing retaliation, she said many male students escorted female Muslim students to and from classes. Munoz said family members even picked students up from campus.

Munoz said she didn?t want to guess who is responsible for the attacks but said if the attacks have an Islamic connection, the attackers are not practicing the religion, but taking it out of context.

?We?d be ashamed, especially when we only try to show people it is good? she said. ?It makes the religion you love so much look bad.?

Sami Al-Arian, USF engineering professor, knows what it?s like to be suspected of terrorist activities. In 1995 federal investigators began to investigate Al-Arian and his ties to former USF adjunct professor Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who became the leader of the Islamic Jihad, a known terrorist organization, after leaving USF in 1995.

Al-Arian and Shallah were both founding members of the World Islamic Studies Enterprise, a USF-affiliated think tank that federal authorities claimed was a front for terrorist groups.

He was absent from the USF campus for nearly two years while the investigation continued. USF reinstated him in 1998 when the investigation yielded little evidence.

Al-Arian said he hopes people don?t jump to conclusions as many did after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing when suspicions arose about Muslim and Middle Eastern involvement.

?No one should jump to conclusions until we know the facts,? Al-Arian said.

He said that the attacks can?t be of Islamic origin because they were a ?very coordinated series of attacks,? and he called them state-sponsored.

?There?s no way,? he said. ?I don?t see any evidence that the attacks stem from the Middle East.

Al-Arian?s wife, Nahla, said she?s worried about her family and Islamic women because of possible backlashes.

?The way we?re dressed ? it?s easier to spot us and attack us,? she said. ?We?re just praying and waiting for a sign from God that it?s not Muslims involved.?

Abdelwahab Hechiche, government and international affairs professor, has studied terrorism and Middle Eastern affairs. At first, he said he was surprised by the attack. But later, he said he has suspected that something could happen on American soil.

?It?s like a job that had to be finished,? he said. ?It is like they wanted to say, ?See? We are hitting the heart of the defense system.??

Hechiche said America?s over confidence on security may have contributed to Tuesday?s attacks.

?We have had some relaxation, and maybe I?d say we have focused more on American threats overseas than at home,? he said. ?We were too confident.?

All day, Hechiche has been wondering who could be behind the attacks and why. He gave possible scenarios from continuing what Timothy McVeigh started to an act of revenge because of America?s detached stance in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

?It?s not exaggerated to think the Middle East is involved ? at least in motive,? he said.

Growing up in the North African country of Tunisia, Hechiche saw World War II as a child and remembers the struggle of his country.

?I was close to what terrorism was,? he said.

Studying terrorism and Middle Eastern affairs for more than two decades, Hechiche said not all terrorists are fanatics: some use logic.

?There?s a rationale in terrorism meant to create a sense of insecurity in a nation: to disrupt harmony between government and it?s people,? he said.

Another Muslim student, freshman Hajar Biuk, doesn?t think Muslims are responsible but doesn?t want people to jump to conclusions.

?I?m so upset,? she said. ?It?s the same thing that happened in the Oklahoma City bombing. It really looks bad for Muslims.?

Contact Selina Roman at