Tag Archive | "9/11"

Firefighter from the Bronx commemorates 9/11 anniversary by helping flood victims

FDNY Captain Tom Yuneman spent the anniversary of 9/11 helping to relocate flood victims in Binghamton. The Daily News reports that Yuneman helped a 93-year old man whose home was destroyed find his wife. September 11 was their 64th wedding anniversary. “It made my day,” Yuneman said by phone on Monday. “Of all the days thatI could make him feel better. . . .”

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What Terror Threat?

What Terror Threat?

A woman speaks to a firefighter at Tercela Iglesia Bautista in the Bronx

Nonfe Garcia gives members of Ladder 17, Engine 60 crosses to thank them on the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Photo: Celia Llopis-Jepsen, Bronx Ink.

Bronx residents attending nine September 11 memorial services across the borough on Sunday said they were unfazed by the “credible, but unconfirmed” Department of  Homeland Security reports that al-Qaeda members were planning to use car or truck bombs against targets in New York City and the nation’s capital.

“I’m  not scared at all,”  said Paul Reverson, 18, who was attending a service at the Bronx Museum of Art on the Grand Concourse. Since terrorists haven’t struck New York since 2001, “they won’t do it today.”

Philipe Gaston, 22, whose cousin escaped from the Twin Towers ten years ago, said he felt secure because the city had ramped up its security operations over the years. “There have been so many changes as far as security is concerned,” said Gaston, who works at the information point of museum. “The security in New York just skyrocketed.”

On Friday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg informed city residents of the possible threat and urged everyone to be vigilant. “Over the next few days,” Bloomberg said, “we should all keep our eyes wide open.”

In response, Gov. Andrew Cuomo added what he called “a significant increase” in state police officers to the city.  The effect was felt in Manhattan, as security checkpoints set up by the New York Police Department brought traffic around midtown to a virtual standstill.

No roads were closed in the Bronx, however.

Amidst the extra security, Suzanne Russell and her husband gathered in Melrose at Engine Company 71, Ladder 55 to honor the nearly 3,000 victims, including 143 Bronxites,  who died ten years ago in the World Trade Center attacks. When asked about the possible threat, Russell said that no matter what happened she’d be fine as long her firefighter husband was at her side.

“Terror alerts won’t bother me this morning,” Russell said. “This time I have my husband with me. Waiting for the phone call would’ve been the worst part. But for now, we’re all together.”

Julio Gonzalez, a pastor at Tercera Iglesia Bautista Espanola in Mott Haven, gave a more spiritual response.

“We all carry the fear of another attack like 9/11,” said Rev. Gonzalez.  “But we have faith in God.”

Additional reporting by Celia Llopis-Jepsen, Diane Jeantet, and Janet Upadhye contributed to this report. 

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Top Stories of the Day

New York flexes security muscle to foil 9/11 plot

Anti-terrorist security has been beefed up across New York, in an emphatic response to a possible car bombing on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. A New York Daily News report, based on “specific and credible” info, claims that the plot involves three veteran terrorists – one possibly with an American passport – approved by Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. It also quotes investigators saying that names of all three were known, but they were too common to provide much direction.

After 9/11, Anthrax Day in the Bronx

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will declare September 14 as Anthrax Day in the Bronx, The Bronx Times reports, when the band performs with heavy metal’s Big Four at Yankees Stadium on Wednesday night. Anthrax features three native Bronxites – Charlie Benante and Frank Bello from Throgs Neck, and Rob Caggiano from Pelham Parkway. But a Yahoo Music Blog points out that just four days later, on September 18, it will be the 10th anniversary of the anthrax attacks that killed five people in the days following 9/11.

She stuffed him in suitcase, stole his checks

Monique Exum, the woman who ‘buried’ her 73-year-old boyfriend in a suitcase, is now believed to have done it for the money. The New York Daily News reports that Exum, 36, stole Johnny Davis’ Social Security checks and bank funds for three months, till his packed corpse was discovered in Williamsbridge on Sunday.

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Top Stories of the Day

Man found stabbed to death in Bronx home

A 44-year-old man’s body was discovered around Thursday afternoon, the New York Daily News reports, at his apartment on W. 167th St. in the Bronx. Police said the man, whose name was not immediately released, had multiple stab wounds. They were alerted by a woman who worked with the victim in a clothing business, after she did not hear from him in days.

‘Credible’ terror threat on 9/11 anniversary

There is a “specific, credible, but unconfirmed threat” of a possible al-Qaeda-sponsored attack in New York on or near the anniversary of 9/11, Bloomberg.com quoted a U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesman as saying on Thursday. The statement said the attack could be vehicle-borne, possibly bigger than car or truck bombing at a transportation hub or bottleneck in the city.

School year starts with layoffs, cutbacks

As more than 1 million city students returned to school on Thursday, their parents and teachers worried over the cuts to public schools, School budgets have been slashed by more than 10% since 2007, says a New York Daily News report. That has translated to 2,600 fewer teachers for 10,000 more students expected to enroll this year. Principal Anna Hall, at the Bronx Academy of Letters, too has been forced to cut after-school programs and is short of even basic supplies.


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The Bronx Remembers 9/11

The Bronx Remembers 9/11

Ten years ago, nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon along with the crash of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa.

The lives of many New Yorkers were never the same after Sept. 11, 2001.

In the Bronx, at least 143 residents were reported killed. The loss extends beyond immediate family members and friends of the victims. The Bronx Ink interviewed residents who were also deeply affected by the attacks. One Bronx firefighter shares his experience at Ground Zero. A police officer describes the horror at the scene. Still another, a Palestinian refugee from Jordan, talks about his change of heart after being rebuked by his mother.

Hear these voices from the Bronx as they share their memories.


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Bin Laden’s killing in Pakistan leaves Pakistani community in the Bronx shocked

By Sana Gulzar

Almost a week after the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden in the city of Abbottabad in Pakistan, Pakistani residents in the Bronx have been left disillusioned and worried.

At one of the very few Pakistani restaurants near Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, many Pakistani Bronx residents watched a Pakistani news channel  analyzing Bin Laden’s death. While all eyes in the restaurant were glued to the widescreen television showing images of Osama bin Laden’s compound, an awkward silence pervaded the room.

Many felt relieved at Osama bin Laden’s death. But when approached for comment, they had little or nothing to say about it. Embarrassed, shocked and angry at the presence of the 9/11 mastermind only a couple of miles away from the Pakistan Military Academy in a settled Pakistani town and worried about their country’s future, many seemed reluctant to talk about this sensitive issue. And the few patrons who did share their view were uncomfortable having their names published.

“Being a Pakistani, this was shocking—that he was in Pakistan and that too in Abbottabad,” said a Pakistani post-doctoral research fellow living in the Bronx, who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity.

Those who did express their opinion said that the silence of the Pakistani government about the issue made matters worse. Some even said that the government of Pakistan should have taken its people living inside Pakistan and abroad into confidence immediately after the news came out.

“Our leaders could not protect their own image,” said the post-doctoral research fellow. “It has created a bad image in the U.S.”

As in Pakistan, conspiracy theories are circulating and questions are being raised here about the role of the Pakistani military and the premier intelligence agency, the ISI. Many are also questioning the Pakistani military’s capability to protect its borders, as the presence of U.S. troops within Pakistan went undetected.

“How is it that another country’s troops came in and they did not know about it,” said Muhammad Anwar, a Pakistani taxi driver living in the Bronx for 21 years and one of the few Pakistanis interviewed that was willing to give his name. “Although the killing of Osama bin Laden was a good thing, they should have reacted.”

While some in the restaurant seemed to agree that what happened was a major intelligence failure for the Pakistani military, they were skeptical about the allegations that the military knew about Bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan and played a double role.

“There might be a few at the lower level, like there are everywhere in the world, who sympathize with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, but why blame the whole Pakistan army and the ISI,” said the research fellow.

As the debate over Osama bin Laden’s killing rages on and the details come in, the Pakistani community in the Bronx, anxious and worried about the future of their country and its relationship with the United States, is mostly silent for now.

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Skulls and Rosaries

Audio slideshow by Elettra Fiumi and David Patrick Alexander.

A local Soundview botanica owner counts on days like Saint Michael’s Day on September 29th to boost his flagging business.

“People aren’t going to the saints as much as before,” said John Santiago, owner of the Botanica store, which manages to maintain a steady revenue of approximately $53,000 per year. His is one of the last standing local botanicas. Three others closed down in the last year.

In a city still trying to recover from high jobless rates and a global economic collapse, this Botanica maintains a faithful clientele by offering religious tidbits of advice and a little generosity alongside wooden crucifixes, or bath soap that wards off evil. When someone in need can’t afford to buy something, he might give them a candle for free.

Santiago said sales of merchandise that includes skulls, rosaries and candles have gone down since the 1980s except for a brief surge around 9/11.

“People were getting scared and thinking they were going to die so they should clean their souls,” he said. “People only believe when something tragic happens.”

Sales increase drastically mostly around religious days like the day after Halloween, Christmas day and New Year’s Eve. Most clients don’t remember other saint days throughout the year, but when Santiago reminds them, he recalls them thanking him by giving him “muchos blessings.”

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Inside the Only Islamic School in the Bronx

By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Mubina Maricar instructs her students at the Islamic Leadership School. The school has 18 students, from pre-K to ninth grade. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Mubina Maricar instructs her students at the Islamic Leadership School. The school has 18 students, from pre-K to ninth grade. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

On a typical December morning in the Bronx’s only Islamic private school,  Mubina Maricar, a 62-year-old science teacher,  strained to be heard above the students’ voices reciting in unison from the adjacent classroom.

Her eight students in grades six through nine were learning about speed, velocity and acceleration. Five boys in the front rows and three veiled girls in the back seats were busily taking notes and answering the teachers’ questions, unfazed by the Qur’an verses emanating through the thin walls.

“Qul’A’udhu bi-rabbin-nas” (I seek refuge in the Lord of mankind).

“Melikin-Nas, Ilahin-Nas” (The king of mankind, the true God of mankind).

Suddenly, the recitation halted. Al-Aqib Coulibaly, the only 2nd grader in the Parkchester school, raised the light blue curtain covering the door between the classes, and walked into Maricar’s room.

Al-Aqib Coulibaly, the only 2nd grader, attends the Islamic Leadership School with his four brothers. He and his students wore their winter coats because the school's portable heaters were insufficient. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vura

Al-Aqib Coulibaly, the only 2nd grader, attends the Islamic Leadership School with his four brothers. Students wore their winter coats because the portable heaters were not enough to heat the classrooms. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

The 7-year-old looked at the numbers and formulas on the small green board for a moment, then, walked between the boys and girls to grab an extra Qur’an from the shelf.

Al-Aqib then sauntered back to his classroom where three other students, including his older brother Ismail, were waiting.

Al-Aqib was not having his best day. He had forgotten to memorize his Qur’an verses. He couldn’t find his Arabic homework. He neglected to say, “As-salamu aleykum” (peace be upon you), when he entered the room.  Rules were not his favorite thing.

Al-Aqib tightened his black scarf around his head and arranged his black winter coat, as he took his seat in his classroom. Students in both classrooms were wearing their winter coats on Dec. 10 because the small portable heaters were insufficient to heat the classrooms.

Al-Aqib and his brothers are students of the Islamic Leadership School, an private school at 2008 Westchester Ave., founded on September 11, 2001 with 13 students. The school has grown to 18 students over the last eight years, to include children from pre-kindergarten to 9th grade.

The school is a part of an umbrella organization Islamic Cultural Center of North America (ICCNA), a Bronx-based organization that operates both the school and the mosque Masjid Al-Iman.

“My wife and I have one prenuptial agreement,” said Moussa Drammeh, 47, the school’s founder and operations manager.

“It was, if Allah blesses us to have children, they will never go to public school,” said Drammeh, who was born in Gambia, raised in Senegal, and immigrated to the United States in 1986. He is the executive director of ICCNA and the imam of Masjid Al-Iman.

The Drammehs wanted to shield their children from what they believe is the immoral and corrupt behavior of public school children. “In the public schools in the Bronx, children can walk around with their pants hanging down. Thirteen-year-old girls are having sex; they exchange dirty emails,” said Drammeh, who has lived in the Bronx since 1986.

Shireena Drammeh, the school's principal, goes over the course material with Qur'an teacher M. D. Amin ul-Islam. The school's curriculum includes math, biology and the Qur'an. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Shireena Drammeh, the school's principal, goes over the course material with Qur'an teacher M. D. Amin ul-Islam. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

He and his wife began looking for an Islamic school in the Bronx when their first daughter Ameena turned three years old.

They found none in the Bronx, said Shireena Drammeh, 38, who was born in Guyana into a Muslim family of Indian descent immigrated to the United States in 1986.

They checked out Islamic schools in Yonkers, Queens, New Jersey and Brooklyn.

“We went to Long Island, and found a school there. But unfortunately, the taxes there were horrendous,” said Shireena. “Then, we came back and we decided to start our own school.”

Few families resort to creating their own school like the Drammehs, but a growing number of parents are turning to existing private Islamic schools so that their children learn Islamic principles while acquiring basic state-required education.

“Parents are just awakening to the identity issue, and Islamic schools really are very important to establish Muslim identity for kids,” said Karen Keyworth, 52, co-founder of the Islamic Schools League of America, the only non-profit national organization that keeps track of and network full-time Islamic private schools across the U.S.

There were just 50 schools in 1987, said Keyworth referring to the first small-scale research ever done about this subject. Until the founding of the League, there had been no organization keeping track of Islamic schools in the country and doing research about them. According to the League’s research, the school numbers have not changed since the late 1990s. There are 240 full-time Islamic schools in the country with 32,000 students approximately according to the 2006 data.

New York and New Jersey combined have 17 percent of the Islamic school population in the United States, said Keyworth, who is married with four children and lives in Michigan where she manages the League. Keyworth converted to Islam 32 years ago.

The Islamic Leadership School was scheduled to open on what turned out to be a tragic day–September 11, 2001. Drammeh called an emergency meeting the moment he learned that the World Trade Center towers had been attacked by Al-Qaeda extremists.

“Some parents worried about retaliation, saying we should postpone opening,” said Drammeh. But, he refused. “Let the world know the difference between the criminals and peace-loving Muslims,” said Drammeh.  And the school has been open ever since.

Tuition for The Islamic Leadership School, located at 2008 Westchester Avenue in the Bronx, is $3,500 a year. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Tuition for The Islamic Leadership School, located at 2008 Westchester Avenue in the Bronx, is $3,500 a year. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

The school takes up small part of the first floor of two-story 25,000 square-foot building on Westchester Avenue in the Bronx. The building used to be car repair shop, with a warehouse on the first floor and a parking lot on the second floor.

Inside the entrance is a large hall, with two administrative offices on the left that include two computers for students and a big mat spread over the floor where boys learn martial arts. At the end of the hall, two doors open out to a larger room for the mosque, Masjid Al-Imam, a vast space covered with plastic carpets for Muslims in the school and the community to pray.

Drammeh has plans to renovate the building and expand the school through high school and college.

For now, expansion plans are on hold as the school struggles to pay its rent, and finish renovations, which is in its third year.

Parents pay up to $3,500 a year for the school. “The tuition fees can just pay two teachers full salaries,” said Drammeh. The school relies completely on tuition and fundraising dollars, neither of which is substantial.

For the last four months, the school has not been able to pay its monthly $10,000 rent to the landlord, who is a Muslim immigrant from the Balkans.

“If he kills us, he goes to jail,” said Drammeh smiling. “If he exercises patience, Allah rewards him,” he added. “He chose the reward.”

“All the private schools by and large are in financial trouble,” said Keyworth. Islamic schools are not exceptions. Tuition and donations from the local community provide the school’s sole source of income, which barely cover operating costs.

“Our weakest ring is fundraising,” said Drammeh. The donations are almost non-existent.

But Drammeh would rather not talk business. The school for him is not a place of business. Pointing out his heart, he said he began the school with his heart, not with his brain.

The struggling school often admits students whose parents cannot afford to pay the $3500 tuition. Sometimes Drammeh strikes a bargain with the parents.

Al-Aqib’s mother, Berill Barna, 34, works as a cleaning woman and kindergarten aide at the school in exchange for the tuition for her five sons.

“There are 475 kids in our registry that we are in contact with, but could not offer education because of lack of space,” said Drammeh.

The majority of the school’s students come from Africa or Middle Eastern countries, which reflect the demographic changes in the Bronx Muslim population, which has been growing steadily with immigrants from Mali, Ghana, Gambia, and other West African and Middle Eastern countries.

“We are a big family here and it is a protected environment for our kids,” said Barna, who is a Polish immigrant and converted to Islam 11 years ago. Barna is married to a Muslim man from the Ivory Coast.

“We are family,” said Amani Ahmed, a 14-year-old of Yemeni origins, and the school’s only 9th grader, tucking her hair under a black headscarf. “We see everyone almost every day and everywhere.”

This could not be truer for Drammeh’s children, Ameena, a 12-year-old 8th grader; Mohammed, a 10-year-old 6th grader, and Mariam – Drammeh’s 9-year-old epileptic dauther in the 1st grade. They have become used to seeing their father Moussa and mother Shireena Drammeh almost every hour of every day, not just at home but at school since the first day she started the kindergarten.

Uniforms are a casual requirement: navy blue pants and white shirts for boys, and navy blue skirts and white, blue or black headscarves for girls.

Ameena Drammeh wants to be a doctor. Her parents checked out other Islamic schools in Yonkers, Queens, New Jersey and Brooklyn before settling at The Islamic Leadership School. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Ameena Drammeh wants to be a doctor. Her parents checked out other Islamic schools in Yonkers, Queens, New Jersey and Brooklyn before founding The Islamic Leadership School. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

“Actually boys wear uniform,” corrected Ameena and Amani. “The girl’s uniform is just to cover yourself,” added Amani. “No matter what you wear, the important thing is to cover yourself.”

The school starts at 8 a.m. and last until 4 p.m. except Fridays when it ends after “Salaat-ul-Jummah,” Friday prayer. On other weekdays, the students have to pray “dhuhr,” the noon prayer, and “asr,” afternoon prayer with their teachers in the masjid.

They are not allowed to leave the building during breaks, including lunch breaks, except on Fridays when they are allowed to go out with their teachers and even to eat some junk food.

Along with Arabic, Qur’an and Islamic Studies, a school day at the Islamic Leadership School is filled with standard academic subjects like English, Sciences, History, Math, and Geography. The school has seven teachers, all Muslim and women, except for the 28-year-old Qur’an teacher, M. D. Amin ul-Islam from Bangladesh.

Last year, 15 students took the Regents exams and “four of them did 100 percent out of 100 percent of the test, excellent,” said Drammeh while the rest passed the test with Level 4, the second highest score, added his wife Shireena Drammeh.

“When I walked in here, I saw that they needed help,” said Maricar, who had taught in Britain, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.  before she came to the Islamic Leadership School at the beginning of this academic year. She is not highly paid, “not like other schools or like public schools,” said Maricar. “But, I do not want to teach in public schools.”

Maricar teaches math, science and biology, which includes evolution.

“I tell the students that this is what scientists are telling us,” said Maricar, about the theory of evolution.”We do not want to be narrow minded,” added Maricar, who was born in Kenya and raised in Great Britain, graduated from the University of Sheffield in England. “But, this is not what Qur’an is saying.”

There is no music course at the Islamic Leadership School. “I do not oppose music in principle,” said Drammeh, “as long as there is no dancing, no slang and curse in lyrics and no profanity.” The music of  prominent convert Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, is an example of the kind he approves of.

Nor does the school provide physical activities for its students.

“We teach martial arts to the boys,” said Drammeh. But, there was nothing for girls.

The school has been part of an interfaith program with the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, a Jewish school. School founder Moussa Drammeh explains the project as "two holy states in the Holy Land". Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

The school has been part of an interfaith program with the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, a Jewish school. School founder Moussa Drammeh explains another project called "two holy states in the Holy Land" for the peace in the Middle East. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

There will be a play named “Healthy Islamic Relationships,” that the students will be performing later in the academic year. And, there is a character for a female student to play.

The play authored by Moussa Drammeh is about Islamic gender roles and relationships between the sexes. The character called the “Groom” explains to the “Bride” how a healthy relationship works in Islam. Under his protection, the groom expects his wife to take care of the house and to aspire to be a professional, such as a doctor, lawyer, artist or banker.  The bride aggressively bombards the groom with questions, but in the end, happily agrees with him.

For the last five years, the Islamic Leadership School has been part of an interfaith program with the Jewish school, Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan.

“I actually got to learn more about Judaism and their beliefs and studies and we also got to meet lots of friends,” said Amani. “I taught the Jewish children about Islam. I think they know more about Islam than they did before.”

By noon on December 10th, students prepared for lunch by first performing “wuduu,” the Islamic cleansing ritual for “dhuhr,” the noon prayer.

Adel Mohammed recites the call for prayer. He returned to the school three years after he lived in Yemen. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Adel Mohammed recites the call for prayer. He returned to the school three years after he lived in Yemen. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

The seventh grader, Adel Mohammed, 13, knew that day it was his turn to recite “adhan,” the Muslim call to prayer, for “dhuhr.”

He put the palms of his hands over his ears, and started to recite.  Students and teachers flocked to the dark blue plastic carpet of the masjid; men and boys lined up in the front carpet while women and girls lined up at the back.

Al-Aqib straggled in late to the prayer.

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