In the wake of the shocking shooting of a local police officer by a suspect who declared himself motivated by Islam, shadows of suspicion fell on West Philly’s sizable Muslim community.
A great deal of those suspicions, which were later proven false, arose based on an anonymous tip warning that police were in further danger.
The unidentified tipster said Edward Archer, who is charged with attempted murder for shooting Jesse Hartnett, who survived but remains in recovery, was part of a cell with three other men and had been radicalized while visiting a mosque at 45th and Walnut streets.
While within a week of the shooting the FBI publicly said that tip was debunked, the rumor was a shock to members of the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects (AICP) – which has been part of West Philly for more than 20 years and is surrounded by a peaceful, welcoming Muslim residential and business community.
“It is just, forgive the term, ridiculous for someone to claim someone would come over here and get radicalized. It just doesn’t fly,” said Riad Nachef, AICP’s president and also its founder back in 1990 when the neighborhood was vastly different.
“The only reason why I would think of someone who is radical in nature comes to attend our service is just of spying to see what we’re doing, because what he would hear is the refutation of radicalism,” he said.
Dachef, the son of a Syrian father and Palestinian mother who was born in Lebanon, said his community is in a strong position to refute the arguments of extremists who claim their radicalism is founded on the Koran – because they are “well versed religiously.”
He said members of AICP deconstruct radical interpretations of the Koran, calling it Wahhabism, in a way that “the conclusion for the reader is they are lying, they are swindlers, and they are using the texts out of context to drive the people in the wrong direction.”
For that reason, Nachef said he wasn’t fazed by the rumors about Archer’s ties to AICP.
“I knew this would lose credibility very quickly,” he said.
However, multiple members of the tight-knit community around 45th and Walnut told Metro they were spooked by the spotlight – and declined to be interviewed or identified on the record due to concerns of anti-Islamic reprisals.
Nonetheless, Nachef, who has seen gangs and drug traffickers disappear from the neighborhood around AICP to be replaced by welcoming small businesses, is optimistic.
“As far as we are concerned, we are here, our doors are wide open to talk to anyone… For someone to come over here and to come out and say ‘I’m an ISIS guy’ or I’m this and that – it just doesn’t stand.”