Muslims upset over North Side FBI raid
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The FBI caused a stir on the North Side last week when heavily armed agents sealed off streets and raided the Light of the Age mosque at Boyle and Hemlock streets.
Although the case appears to be no more than a routine federal gun prosecution out of Utah, local Muslims say the raid caused a major disruption at a house of worship.
Agents arrested Larry M. Williams of Lincoln-Lemington, whose criminal history includes a felony conviction in the state of Washington. He also was wanted on several outstanding warrants, including one for failure to register as a sex offender.
The agents took Mr. Williams into custody on the street outside the three-story house based on a federal arrest warrant issued in Utah, then searched one room inside, said U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan.
She and the FBI both said Mr. Williams was the only person arrested.
"The warrant was issued for a location where a previously convicted felon was known to be residing," said Ms. Buchanan.
She said she could not comment further, nor could FBI spokesman Jeff Killeen. Federal search warrants are always sealed by magistrates and officials are only allowed to comment on information that is part of the public record.
Although Mr. Williams' public defender described the building as a mosque, Ms. Buchanan said the government is "not willing" to concede that it is one. She said men, women and children stay in the building but that the government has no independent evidence that it is a house of worship.
Either way, she said, the FBI was acting on a federal criminal complaint from the U.S. attorney's office in Salt Lake City and tracked Mr. Williams to the house on Friday.
Luqman abdus-Salaam, the director of the mosque, disputed Ms. Buchanan's characterization of the building.
"The house is definitely a place of worship," he said. "The landlord knows it's a place of worship and community members and neighbors know it's a place of worship."
He said the raid happened shortly before Friday prayers known as Jummah salaat, which is the Muslim equivalent of Sunday services. The prayer services were disrupted and eventually canceled because of the raid, he said.
"It prevented prayer completely," said Mr. abdus-Salaam.
About 30 people regularly attended Friday prayers at the mosque. He said the mosque functioned like any other house of worship with an open-door policy for members who need housing or a place to rest.
Mr. abdus-Salaam said the mosque was preparing for services when agents arrived with the search warrant. He said about six men were ushered out of the house, detained and questioned on the street for about two hours.
He said Mr. Williams was arrested an hour before the warrant was executed. Mr. Williams is also known as Hasan Ali to members at the mosque and has been an active member for three years, Mr. abdus-Salaam said.
He said Mr. Williams arrived at the mosque the night before the raid looking for a place to rest for the evening. He said mosque members had no reason to believe he was wanted for any sort of criminal activity.
The case against Mr. Williams is being prosecuted as part of the Justice Department's Project Safe Neighborhoods program to crack down on illegal guns across the country. Hundreds of such cases have been prosecuted locally in recent years.
A Utah state trooper pulled Mr. Williams over on June 27 because his car had tinted windows. After a drug dog alerted to the inside of the car, the trooper said he found plastic bags containing parts of a pistol and two magazines for it, plus ammunition and a magazine for an assault rifle.
The trooper confiscated the weapon and ammo, but apparently didn't know until he talked to a supervisor that Mr. Williams could be prosecuted in federal court on weapons charges.
Under federal law, he's not allowed to have a gun because he's a convicted felon.
"Basically, they let him go," said Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Salt Lake City. "[The trooper] didn't realize it's definitely something we will prosecute."
A federal magistrate judge in Utah then issued a warrant. It's not clear what Mr. Williams was doing in Utah. The car he was driving had California plates.
At a detention hearing in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the U.S. attorney's office said that Mr. Williams should be detained pending trial, a standard request considering his criminal history and his wanted status.
A magistrate judge placed Mr. Williams on home detention, but stayed that order because his house on Montezuma Street does not have utilities. So the judge sent him to jail for now until he gets his power back.
Eventually, U.S. marshals will transport him back to Utah to face prosecution.
First Published July 7, 2006 12:00 am