On ultraconservative Web sites like littlegreenfootballs.com, the story of Monday's shooting rampage at Trolley Square has been reduced to one fact: "Salt Lake City Killer Was a Muslim."
"The media did everything they could to avoid mentioning it, but it's confirmed today that the mass murderer who terrorized a mall in Salt Lake City was a Bosnian Muslim," reads the intro at littlegreenfootballs.com.
At MichaelSavage.com, the Muslim connection is a running-banner headline.
At jihadwatch.org, the story begins "Sudden Jihad syndrome? Maybe."
The online stories, as well as Tuesday's and Wednesday's stories in the Deseret Morning News, have resulted in a barrage of vitriolic e-mails to the News from people either angry at the paper for not mentioning the religion of shooter Sulejman Talovic in Wednesday's Web edition, or certain that because Talovic is Muslim that he must be a terrorist.
There is no record that Talovic attended any of the mosques in the Salt Lake area, according to both Tarek Nosseir, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake and Bobby Darvish, president of the Muslim Forum of Utah. Nosseir noted that many Bosnian Muslims are more secular than religious.
"Having lived under Soviet Union rules for decades, where religious freedom was not an option, a majority of these people" are not practicing Muslims, he added. "What I hear is that he came a couple of times at most, to Eid prayers, but I can't confirm that he came."
Although Salt Lake City police have not yet established a motive for the shootings, a handful of Bosnian refugees were verbally harassed at their workplaces on Wednesday, according to the Utah Consortium of Multicultural Groups. Local police report no incidents of violence against Bosnian or other refugees.
"Why dont (sic) you guys just come out and say this was a terrorist attack because he was MUSLIM," wrote one e-mailer to the Deseret Morning News. "There is no doubt in my mind that this young man was carrying out Islamic jihad," wrote another. And another: "Why is it that when I heard about a mall shotting (sic) I thought Muslim? Sure enough. Are you people in Utah that clueless?"
"He was a Muslim terrorist and you know it you deceitful, cowardly liar," wrote a man with "MD, PhD" after his name.
"Welcome to my world," said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C., about the angry e-mails. "I get tons of it every day."
On Wednesday, in response to a CAIR effort to find photos of American Muslims for a special project, the group received a phone call from someone asking sarcastically, "Do you want a picture of the guy in Salt Lake?"
Buba Roth, a spokeswoman for the Consortium of Multicultural Groups, said such reactions are evidence of a general lack of understanding of the refugee community. They are also at least partially to blame for a reluctance by many Bosnians to talk to reporters, said Roth, a Serbian who speaks for the Consortium's 26 ethnic organizations, including a Bosnian association.
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"People living here 10 or more years in America still don't even feel the freedom to communicate with the media," she said. "They are so afraid, and so isolated."
Roth said she sees the potential for escalation of the harassment and is working to start discussions among refugees and the mainstream community to foster increased understanding.
"Someone needs to start communication," she said. "Maybe we will be able to express who we are. ... We are Americans, we want the best for this country."
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