Garden City, US – Residents of this small American city rallied to support the local Muslim community after federal investigators uncovered a plot by local militia members to bomb an apartment complex where many of them live.
US law enforcement agencies announced the arrest of three men on October 14, charging them in a domestic “terrorism plot” to bomb an apartment complex in Wichita suburbs where several Somali immigrant families lived.
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The Muslim community in Garden City – mostly refugees or asylum seekers from Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan – numbers about 1,000 out of a population of 28,000. Almost all of them work at Tyson’s Fresh Meat packing factory in the area.
Reverend Denise Pass, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Garden City, organised the rally last week to show support for the Somali community.
“When I heard this tragic news, it came to my mind that we – as members of this community and as Christians – should support and protect the local Muslim community,” Pass told Al Jazeera.
Tens of people from the community as well as members of her church took part in the rally around the apartment complex that was to be targeted.
Southwest Kansas state, where Garden City is located, is conservative but, according to Pass, it did not mean the community at large was racist, anti-Muslim, or against immigrants.
“The actions of few racist individuals should not be taken to represent the whole community, just as the Muslim community should not negatively labelled or held responsible for the actions of the very few terrorists who happened to be Muslims,” she said.
Many of the immigrants do not speak English, which makes them vulnerable as well as isolated from the mainstream community, according to Mohamad Abdi, a 23-year-old Somali worker and a student who was one of the founders of the African Community Center in Garden City.
Mursal Naleye, 27, president of the community centre, told Al Jazeera he and other members were “heartened by the overwhelming support from the American community in Garden City”.
“We are really thankful for everyone who came out supporting and protecting us, the police, the FBI and the local community,” he said.
Naleye, who came to the US from the war-torn Somalia in 2010, said Somali and other African community members were not involved in anything other work.
“We just want to have a normal life and don’t want to bother anyone,” he said.
Dr John Birky, a member of the Finney county Community Health Coalition in Garden City, has worked with members of the Somali community and other migrant groups to help them integrate into society and learn English.
While finding the plot to attack the Muslim community “alarming” and “disturbing”, Birky said he felt threatened as well because of his efforts to help refugees and migrants.
Many followers of Islam in the US have felt threatened during this current presidential campaign, especially after White House hopeful Republican Donald Trump proposed a ban on Muslims entering the US if he was elected.
“If I was a Muslim in the US today, I would feel very vulnerable and very threatened, that’s why it is important for us to make a stance here, because we are all God’s children,” said Pass.
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