“I used to think we were all immigrants, all the same people who came here for a better life. Now I’m not so sure,” a Colombian-American neighbor of First American Fried Chicken, the business linked to Afghan-American suspected terrorist Ahmad Khan Rahami, told the Los Angeles Times.
Gus Serrano, who lives in the Rahami family’s community in Elizabeth, New Jersey, was one of many who expressed reservation with the newest arrivals to the working-class, largely immigrant and refugee-populated city. Rahami was arrested last week after allegedly planting a series of bombs throughout the region – first in the sleepy shore town of Seaside Park, New Jersey, then in two locations in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, and, finally, at the Elizabeth, New Jersey, Transit train station.
In a notebook found on his person after a shootout with police, Rahami made mention of al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki and Islamic State chief propagandist Abu Mohammad al-Adnani. “Kill the kuffar in their backyard,” he wrote.
Rahami’s father, who reported him to the FBI as a potential terrorist in 2014, is now known to have run his home under strict Islamic law, and forced his son Ahmed to marry a cousin from Pakistan. When Ahmad Rahami had a child with his high-school girlfriend, a Dominican-American, the elder Rahami forced him to travel to Pakistan and abandoned him there, stealing his passport, according to a family friend.
Rahami is known to have had two residences – an apartment in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and the family home in Elizabeth, above First American Fried Chicken. Both communities are majority Latin American (Perth Amboy more so, with a 78 percent Latino population) and, at least in Elizabeth, the presence of such a potential threat is alarming to a community unused to having to see refugees and immigrants as potential terrorists.
One woman told the Los Angeles Times that she used to chide a friend who would warn about Muslim immigrants. “I would tell my friend, ‘How can you say Muslims are terrorists?'” She says she is reconsidering her friend’s stance: “But now — oh my God — look what happened in our neighborhood. How can we know who to trust?”
The woman, Martha Renza, said she saw Mohammed Rahami reject his granddaughter while her teenage mother, Maria Mena, stood outside First American Fried Chicken. While the young Rahami was accepting of his peers, as photos from his high school days evidence, his father clearly discriminated against Latinos, she said. “The old man would never come out. He didn’t want to meet the grandchild.”
Even against those he did not consider to bring shame upon his family, Mohammed Rahami appeared to be bigoted. A man who identified himself to the Agence France-Presse as “Miguel” said he felt discriminated against at the chicken restaurant when he identified himself as half-Mexican, half-Israeli. “Conversation over,” he said, describing Mohammed as “very rude.”
Mena eventually left Rahami and sued him for child support, which she never received. She has since filed for full custody of her daughter and a change of the girl’s last name so she does not have to live with the burden of sharing a name with a jihadist.
The growing Muslim community in Elizabeth appears focused on convincing the established populations in their new home not to fear them.
“It’s important to us that the country understands that in our city we have law-abiding Muslims who love America, who served in the military, who go to schools, who are police officers and law enforcement,” the head of Elizabeth’s oldest mosque, Hassem Abdellah, told Fox News.
Abdellah told the AFP that Muslims “treat our neighbors kindly, we feed the poor. So hopefully people will remember all the good things that we do.”
The Rahamis made promoting this image difficult long before Ahmad Rahami’s terror spree. First American Fried Chicken, Mayor Christian Bollwage said shortly after Rahami’s arrest, was a blight on the community, the target of many lawsuits due to attracting loud, unsavory characters at all hours of the night. Patrons would urinate on their property, the neighbors complained, eventually triggering city action to restrict the restaurant’s hours. In response, Mohammed Rahami sued the city for anti-Muslim discrimination.
“He sued everybody and their brother,” a neighbor who opposed late-night hours for the restaurant told Vice.
The Rahami case highlights a growing wedge between Latinos in the United States and newly arrived Muslim immigrants. A Breitbart/Gravis poll taken on September 20 found that Hispanics of any race were more likely than all other ethnic/racial groups, including white non-Hispanics, to agree with the statement, “We must identify Islamic radical terrorism for what it is. You cannot defeat something if you cannot talk about it.” Hispanics were also more likely than any other minority group to say the United States has no obligation to take in refugees from terror-linked countries.
Hispanic Americans were the target of the deadliest jihadist attack on U.S. soil this year: the massacre at the Orlando Pulse nightclub, where on the club’s Latin Night, terrorist Omar Mateen killed 49 members of the LGBT community and their allies.