State Journal Register: Islamic Group Finds Town's Emergency Drill Offensive

Feature 231IRVING — A national Islamic advocacy group says an emergency preparedness drill targeting a simulated mosque in this small community wrongly typecast Islamic houses of worship as security threats. “It really was in poor taste, probably as a result of a lack of cultural prowess on the part of the person who made that choice,” Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Chicago chapter, said Wednesday.

Rehab said he has no reason to believe the exercise was meant to be malicious, but it still perpetuates a stereotype linking all Muslims to terrorism.

Officials from almost 30 government agencies participated in the drill last week in Irving, which is 7 miles northeast of Hillsboro in Montgomery County.

According to the Hillsboro Journal-News, the May 1 exercise converted the Continuing Recovery Center into “Irving Mosque,” described as “the home-base for a radical, heavily armed group with suspected terrorist ties.”

The drill involved simulated explosions, hostages — including one hooked up to an explosive device — and nerve gas, causing both the Illinois Secretary of State bomb squad and the Montgomery County HazMat team to respond. Special forces from the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System also emerged from an armored car and stormed the “mosque,” the Journal-News reported.

“Officials must be trained in dealing with hostage-taking and responding to chemical, biological or bomb attacks,” Rehab said in a news release his agency sent out Tuesday. “We are only questioning the wisdom of linking the American Muslim community and its institutions to such incidents.”

Rehab said Wednesday the Washington D.C.-based national CAIR headquarters alerted his office after learning about the drill.

Montgomery County Undersheriff Rick Robbins reportedly was in charge of setting up the particulars of the exercise.

Contacted Wednesday, Robbins asked to see a copy of CAIR’s release. He indicated the sheriff’s office plans to make a statement later this week.

Rehab said he left a message with Robbins on Wednesday afternoon so the two could discuss his concerns.

“I want to give the benefit of the doubt to the person who made that decision to make (the drill scenario) a mosque. That person may not know any Muslims or not have enough interaction with the Muslim community,” Rehab said. “I don’t want people to malign this individual or demonize them. We don’t yet known what their intention was.”

Diana Holmes, coordinator of the Montgomery County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency, said Wednesday she had not heard of CAIR’s complaint.

“Yes, this office sponsored the drill,” she said when a reporter called her Wednesday morning. “The scenario for the exercise came from the sheriff’s office.”

Rehab said he hopes the incident can encourage a discussion of cultural sensitivity issues.

“It’s not just a question of calling them out,” he said. “It’s a matter of rectifying the situation and conveying our perspective.”

CAIR has worked with law enforcement officials on similar issues in recent months. In April, CAIR’s chapter in Pennsylvania asked police training officials to provide a Muslim perspective in a mandatory police training class because of concerns the class may present stereotypical views of Islam and Muslims, according to the news release.

The implication that mosques are bad places because of the actions of a few can be very damaging, Rehab said.

“The real issue facing our community right now is specifically the failure to distinguish between the domain of terrorism, which is very particular, very underground, very exclusive, and the domain of mainstream Islam, which is above ground, in the sunshine and a part of our society.

The drill, he said, “plays into that. It’s again blurring those lines,” Rehab said.

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