CAIRO — The Council on American-Islamic Relations, America's largest Islamic civil liberties group, has urged the media not to associate the seven suspects arrested on charges of plotting terrorist attacks in the US with the country's Muslim minority, insisting they were not Muslims.
"Given that the reported beliefs of this bizarre group have nothing to do with Islam, we ask members of the media to refrain from calling them Muslims," Ahmed Bedier, Director of CAIR Florida chapter, said in a statement e-mailed to IslamOnline.net.
Seven men — five US citizens, a legal resident and a Haitian — appeared in court on Friday, June 23, a day after they were arrested in Miami.
US Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales said the seven were charged with conspiracy to provide material support to Al-Qaeda and terrorists.
They face four terrorism charges, including a plot to blow up the 110-floor Sears Tower, the world's third tallest building, in Chicago and the FBI regional headquarters.
The charges sheet said the group's leader, Narseal Batiste, recruited individuals for an operation "which included a plot to destroy by explosives the Sears Tower."
However, law enforcement officials said that no weapons or explosives had been seized in the raid.
Though acknowledging that the plot was "more aspirational than operational", FBI deputy director John Pistole said the arrests were an "important step forward in the war on terrorism here in the US."
But relatives of the detained men denounced the arrests as an attempt to frighten Americans.
"It's all a show, they're scaring people, there's nothing to be scared at all," said Marlene Phanor, the sister of Stanley Grant Phanor, 31, one of the suspects.
A combo photo of the seven suspects. (Reuters)
Bedier criticized the media for referring to the arrestees as Muslims.
He regretted "a lot of talk on conservative radio and television stations and opinion that this is militant Islamism, radical Islamism."
The Muslim activist asserted that the suspects seem to belong to "some sort of cult group."
Media reports said the seven detainees were part of the "Seas of David" religious group.
A man identified himself as a member of the "Seas of David" told CNN on Thursday, June 22, that they had no connection to terrorists.
"We are not terrorists. We are members of David, Seas of David," said the man, identifying himself as Brother Corey.
He said the group blends the teachings of Christianity and Islam.
"We study Allah and the worship of the regular Bible."
He went on: "We study and we train through the bible, not only physical -- not only physical, but mentally."
The American Muslim activist hailed US Attorney Alex Acosta for noting that the indictment "is not against a particular group or a particular faith."
He urged on other law enforcement authorities and officials to avoid using Arabic terminology in referring to the case.
Gonzales said the group of "home-grown terrorists" were inspired by what he said "a violent jihadist message."
Austria, the current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, has drafted a document of common vocabulary on Islam as part of efforts to avoid stigmatizing terminology in dealing with Muslims.
Rather than dictionary-style definitions, the EU lexicon tries to place words in their cultural, historical and political context to inform users and give them a better idea of how their use could be misunderstood.
The lexicon explains that the term "jihad," which is commonly used in the media to mean "holy war," refers to an intellectual, social or other kind of personal exercise -- "great jihad" -- or to a war in defense of Muslims; "little jihad."
"The latter is either regarded as a collective duty or as an individual obligation incumbent on any capable Muslim," says the document, adding that the word's misuse can also cause offence.
CAIR has called on the authorities to protect mosques and other Muslim institutions from any possible backlash prompted by the mistaken linkage of the case to the Muslim minority.
While there is no scientific count of Muslims in the US, six to seven million is the most commonly cited figure.
A May 2004 report released by the US Senate Office Of Research concluded that the Arab Americans and the Muslim community have taken the brunt of the Patriot Act and other federal powers applied in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.