03/08/2010

Muslim group says Vegas police detained praying men

Officers stopped the men while they were praying in a parking lot

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — The nation's largest Muslim advocacy organization filed a complaint with police in a Las Vegas suburb, saying seven Muslim men from southern California were detained and told they were acting suspiciously while praying in a shopping center parking lot.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said Friday it filed the complaint this week against the Henderson Police Department because it did not understand what was suspicious about the men.

"Our main concern is the police department looking at praying and the way they looked as probable cause for investigating those men," said CAIR spokeswoman Munira Syeda. "They did nothing illegal."

Henderson police spokesman Todd Rasmussen said the complaint was received and internal affairs would investigate, but he declined comment on the incident.

Rasmussen said the department would inform the group of the outcome of its complaint, but said it did not have a timeline for an investigation.

The group said the men, whom it identified as being of various ethnic backgrounds including Middle Eastern and south Asian, were performing one of five required Muslim daily prayers in the lot while stopped to buy gas and food Dec. 20 during a road trip.

Two police cars arrived as the men returned to their car and they were held for 40 minutes while three officers questioned them, checked their backgrounds and searched their car, Syeda said.

Syeda said the men were not blocking traffic or preventing other cars from parking. Afterward, the men were let go.

CAIR attorney Ameena Qazi said in a letter to Henderson police that during the incident, one of the officers commented that the men hypothetically might have been saying "I hope that I kill a police officer today" during their prayer.

Qazi said in the letter that the officers also told the men that they were not trained well enough to know how to appropriately respond to Muslim religious behavior, and asked the men how they should handle similar situations in the future.

The letter also said that police indicated they came up with a possible "hit" with the Terrorist Screening Center during their investigation of the seven men. Rasmussen said Friday he could not confirm a possible match.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Qazi said that the extent of the possible match was unclear and could have been in name only. She said studies have shown numerous inconsistencies with the database and its use.

"I have no doubt that there are people who are on the list and meant to be there that shouldn't be and I have no doubt that there are people whose names are being confused with those on the watch list," Qazi said.

The FBI's Terrorist Screening Center maintains the U.S. government's terrorist watchlist, a database of information on known and suspected terrorists.

FBI officials reached Friday referred questions to a screening center official, who was not immediately available for comment.

A CAIR attorney said in a statement that the group was seeking discipline against the officers involved, changes to officer training and compensation for the emotional distress of the men.

"The scope and length of the stop was not reasonable under the circumstances, nor did it serve any legitimate investigative purpose," Qazi wrote.

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