At the mosque where Anwar al-Awlaki preached a decade ago, there were few tears over the death of the influential al-Qaida figure who more than anyone gave the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center its unwanted association with international terrorism. But some found the way he was killed to be un-American.
FALLS CHURCH, Va. — At the Washington, D.C.-area mosque where Anwar al-Awlaki preached a decade ago, there were few tears over the death of the influential al-Qaida figure who more than anyone gave Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center its unwanted association with international terrorism. But some found the way he was killed to be un-American.
Most worshippers at Dar al-Hijrah for Friday services said they were glad al-Awlaki was gone, that he besmirched their mosque and all of Islam by calling for the deaths of innocent Americans. Others rejected his calls for violence against Americans and the U.S. airstrike that killed him in Yemen on Friday, saying he hadn’t even been charged with a crime. A few were unrepentant in their support of al-Awlaki, though most were unwilling to have their names attached to their views.
“I like justice to be done the normal way,” said Tarik Diap. “If you’re guilty of doing something, you have the law, you have courts. This is, for me, you’re killing someone without proving innocence or guilt.”
Hassan Mohamed, 62, said no accusations against al-Awlaki had been proved.
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“I don’t know why he should be killed,” he said. “I don’t approve of my government going around the world to kill innocent people.”
Leaders of the mosque issued a statement saying that although al-Awlaki “encouraged impressionable American-Muslims to attack their own country,” they deplored “extrajudicial assassination” and believed the drone attack “sends the wrong message to law-abiding people around the world.”
The mosque said al-Awlaki was known for his “interfaith outreach, civic engagement and tolerance” when he served as imam at Dar al-Hijrah from January 2001 to April 2002. It said he did not begin preaching violence until later, after he was arrested and imprisoned in Yemen.
Opinions varied on what kind of preacher al-Awlaki was when he served in Virginia. Most said they did not find him to be overtly political or radical.
But Wadi Adam Lahrim, 34, of Fairfax, said al-Awlaki “did voice his opinions regularly about U.S. involvement in the Middle East. He encouraged the community to speak up against it.”
Lahrim said al-Awlaki was appealing to U.S.-born Muslims because he knew their culture. “He didn’t just teach hate. He did teach (positive) aspects of the religion … and he was able to communicate better than some other imams,” he said.
Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center is among the largest and most influential mosques on the East Coast, but it has been stung by its associations with al-Awlaki and other targets in the U.S. fight against terrorism. Two of the Sept. 11 hijackers worshipped there briefly when al-Awlaki was imam. Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan, the suspect in the Fort Hood, Texas, shootings that left 13 dead in 2009, attended services there occasionally.
Khalid Abutaa was among those happy to hear the news al-Awlaki was dead.
“It’s good. It’s good for Muslims. It’s good for humans,” said Abutaa, a retired chef. “In our religion, we’re not supposed to kill nobody.”
Magdy Hefnawy, the mosque’s president, said he understood why the U.S. sought to kill or capture al-Awlaki. “This is our home here, and we don’t need anyone coming in here and harming this country,” said Hefnawy, a native of Egypt.