As soon as word spread Wednesday of the bombing at a federal building in Oklahoma City, phones began ringing at mosques around the nation.
Some calls were anonymous threats, local and national Muslim leaders said.
Most calls were from Muslims concerned about a backlash of prejudice after authorities in Oklahoma issued a description of two suspects that was vague and ominous: Middle Eastern men with beards, one aged 20 to 25, the other 35 to 38.
“We’re already receiving death threats,” said Ibrahim Hooper of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, whose mission is to fight anti-Muslim stereotypes.
Together with several other American Muslim groups, CAIR condemned the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil as a “criminal and immoral act.” And they issued a plea for news organizations and the public to act with restraint.
“To link this attack with the religion of Islam places millions of responsible American Muslims at risk,” a joint statement said.
By late Wednesday, authorities had not been able to pin the blast on any particular people or groups. Speculation by law enforcement and counterterrorism experts was not confined to groups linked to Middle East violence.
Still, that didn’t prevent some spontaneous outpouring of hate directed at American Muslim groups, many of which were already condemning the bombing.
In Arlington, Texas, the spiritual leader of the Arlington Masjid called whoever carried out the attack “sick.”
“It’s not only Muslims - Muslims, Christians and Jews teach against these types of general killings, killing of children,” said Imam Moataz AlHallak.
He said the mosque received some obscene calls - especially alarming because, even with heightened antiMuslim sentiment in recent years, the mosque had never gotten such calls.
The Arlington mosque had not sought extra police protection. But, Imam Moataz said: “We have a great concern. People are innocent until they are proven guilty. We are afraid of hate crimes and any person who may act irrationally in response to an irrational incident.”