There are men in the Philadelphia area dressing as Muslim women, carrying out bank robberies and a homicide, and an Islamic group wants it to stop. The members of Majlis Ash Shura have taken a proactive approach to crime-solving and have offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the suspects' arrest and conviction.
The Majlis Ash Shura organization, representing 71 mosques and congregations in the Philadelphia area, held a press conference on Tuesday at City Hall, where they were joined by the district attorney, stating they will take a zero-tolerance approach to the crimes.
Tasha Jamerson, director of communications at the D.A.'s office, said two bank robberies have been carried out recently in Philadelphia. She added that a man dressed as a woman murdered another man in neighboring Upper Darby over a woman.
There have been no arrests in the robberies, but police arrested Sharif Wynn and charged him with the April 18 killing in an Upper Darby barber shop. It has been alleged that Wynn wore a woman's clothing in a robbery that turned out to be a love triangle killing.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that since December, there have been at least five bank robberies in Philadelphia where the bandits wore Muslim clothing.
The most recent happened at a Wells Fargo Bank in the 700 block of Adams Avenue and the Sovereign Bank in the 8300 block of Stenton Avenue.
Whatever happened to the mask? Imam Asim Abdul-Rashid, head of the Masajid of the Delaware Valley, told the Inquirer.
Curtis Jones Jr. is the councilman representing the 4th District in Philadelphia. His district includes parts of Overbrook, Manayunk, Belmont Village, Wynnefield, East Falls, Allegheny West and Roxborough, a very eclectic area in his words.
Jones said he was contacted by religious leaders regarding the crime trend. He has condemned the actions of the individuals and wants them caught.
Jones believes the robbers chose the loose-fitting women's garments the better to conceal weapons.
The approach of a female doesn't raise alarms, Jones added. It gives these cowards close access to their victims.
The councilman said the United States has come a long way since the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and that the last thing anyone would want is for people to fear women in hijabs, the head covering worn by Muslim women.
A photo of one suspect shows him also wearing a long robe and what looks like a niqab, the cloth that covers the face also.
Amara Chaudhry, a civil rights director and staff attorney with the Council on American Islamic Relations' Philadelphia chapter, said most Muslim women in the U.S. don't wear long, flowing robes and those who wear the face veils consider it personal and private.
They are using this instead of ski masks, Chaudhry said, adding that one woman was denied entry to a bank as a result of these incidents.
The woman, who was hoping to deposit a check for her son who serves in the military, was wearing a head scarf and was asked to remove it, Chaudhry said, adding that there were several other incidents of the sort reported to her office.
There is a presumption that anyone who appears Muslim is a menace, a threat, and our community doesn't need any additional help being vilified, Chaudhry said. One woman described the removing her hijab as removing her blouse and bra. She felt that exposed.
Chaudhry said racial profiling is alive and well in the United States.
NYPD Spying On Muslims
The Associated Press recently won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting documenting the New York Police Department's spying on Muslims. The AP reported for months that the NYPD was systematically spying on Muslim neighborhoods. They also revealed that NYPD used informants and undercover officers as listening posts in mosques and business in both New York and New Jersey. Even Muslim schools and student groups were watched.
Police documented the details of sermons, even when they were innocuous and peaceful, and infiltrated Muslim student groups on college campuses, the AP reported. NYPD officers catalogued where Muslims ate, eat and prayed - with no mention of criminal activity - and targeted Mosques using techniques typically reserved for criminal investigations.
Some European countries such as France and Belgium have imposed bans on full-face veils.
Men Dressing As Muslim Women Not New
Jones said the he recalls some 15 years ago when men dressed as Muslim women to carry out crimes. And it seems these men are going to great lengths to learn how to properly wear the attire.
Anybody can buy these garments, Jones said. What is disturbing is you have to know how to put them on. The headdress is not that easy. You have to know how to tie it.
Jones fears the crimes will further stereotype Muslim women.
If people are using that disguise, of course it concerns law enforcement and women who are innocent, Jones said. Fear begets fear, so if you're a bank manager, a woman (in a hijab) comes, an alarm goes off that sets a full stereotype.
We are trying to apprehend these guys, Jones said. Stop being cowards hiding behind women's skirts.
Laura is a U.S. politics reporter for the International Business Times. She was always fascinated by the BBC World News each morning on the radio in Jamaica. That, and a love...