Threat fails to intimidate worshippers at Portland mosque

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PORTLAND — Worshippers at the Islamic Society of Portland said they are focusing on the support they’ve received after a threat was directed at the mosque last week.

“To me, it is some foolish people with no knowledge of our community,” Adi Majid Sharif said as he left the afternoon prayer services at 73 Portland St. on June 23.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck attended services that afternoon, while local, state and federal agencies continued to investigate a handwritten letter that Lt. Robert Martin said was mailed from outside the U.S.

The letter was reported June 20 to police, and Martin said the Maine Attorney General’s Office was notified because the language and intent of the letter clearly fit the definition of a hate crime.

The postmark and stamps are foreign, but police have not said where the letter originated.

Sharif said he has been worshipping at the mosque for 20 years, and appreciated the response from Sauschuck and others.

“It is meaningful for the community to show support,” he said. “It shows we stand together.”

Before prayer services began, Abdullahi Ahmed and Sauschuck spoke outside the Islamic Center. While Sauschuck said the threat was unacceptable and noted city police would increase patrols around mosques through the conclusion June 24 of the holy month of Ramadan, Ahmed echoed Sharif’s thoughts.

“We need to highlight positive aspects,” he said. “(The threat) will not influence what we do. We are in a very safe city.”

Until a suspect is identified, Martin said the role of the state attorney general’s office is limited. If someone is charged, the state can add the allegation of a civil hate crime.

The letter will also be analyzed by the FBI, Martin said.

The threat was at least the third hate crime reported this year in the city, beginning when a bomb threat was made against the Jewish Community Center on Ashmont Street in January.

That threat was also reported to the AG’s office and came on a day when about 20 threats against Jewish organizations were reported nationwide, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

On Jan. 27, four Casco Bay High School students were attacked verbally, and two others were physically assaulted, in an incident on Allen Avenue that led to the indictment of 20-year-old Jamie Hoffman on two allegations of assault and a single charge of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon.

Attorney General Janet Mills also filed a civil complaint in Cumberland County Superior Court against Hoffman, asking the court to require him to stay away from the alleged victims and the high school campus.

Twice in the 2016-2017 school year, anti-Muslim graffiti was reported at the University of Southern Maine.

Martin said public response is critical in these investigations.

“It is taken seriously; we do what we can,” he said. “Like the (high school) case, we put a lot of manpower and resources into that and were able to identify him with the public’s help.

On Tuesday, the Muslim community received another public show of support, from Bishop Robert P. Deeley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

“A threat against one faith is a threat against all who value religious freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution,” Deeley said in a statement released by the diocese. “It is foundational to who we are as Americans. … We will always stand as a voice against any attempts to rob humanity of rights guaranteed to all, including and especially the freedom of religion.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Abdullahi Ahmed, left, and Police Chief Michael Sauschuck speak before afternoon prayers June 23 at the Portland Islamic Center. Ahmed said he preferred to highlight positive aspects of the community instead of dwelling on a threatening letter received at the center June 20.

Abdi Majid Sharif attends afternoon prayers June 23 at the Portland Islamic Center. He said he is not worried about a threat received at the mosque June 20: “To me, it is some foolish people with no knowledge of the community.”

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.