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'Once Again In Shock': Police Uncover 2nd Terror Plot Against Muslim Community In New York


Members of a small Muslim community in upstate New York say they're frightened and angry after police announced last week that they uncovered another terror plot that targeted local families. Islamberg is a community near the Catskill Mountains. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Rashid Clark stepped to the microphone at a press conference in Binghamton, N.Y., and found himself again talking about a deadly threat to him and his neighbors.


RASHID CLARK: The community of Islamberg is, once again, in shock. If you are wondering how we feel, just imagine waking up and having to tell your children of such a plot.

MANN: About 200 people live in Islamberg. The religious settlement was established in the 1980s. And it's been viewed by most locals for decades as a normal part of life in the rural area. Clark says people who visit find nothing out of the ordinary.


R CLARK: We grow crops. We raise animals. And we live like law-abiding citizens.

MANN: The Police Chief Patrick Phelan in the town of Greece, N.Y., three hours away announced the arrest of four men. They were allegedly preparing an attack against Islamberg that involved more than 20 firearms and three homemade bombs.


PATRICK PHELAN: If they had carried out this plot, which every indication is that they were going to, people would've died.

MANN: There's no indication any of the suspects had visited Islamberg or interacted with families there. But the community has been the target of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories on conservative websites and social media for years.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It appears to be a faithful group of devotional Muslims. But when you look into it, you'll find a lot of very concerning activities going on there.

MANN: Videos like this one, suggesting that Islamberg's residents are dangerous militants, has spread widely on Facebook and other platforms despite being debunked by state and federal police.

SCOTT HEGGELKE: We have never found any evidence that there's anything nefarious going on.

MANN: Captain Scott Heggelke is a New York State Trooper.

HEGGELKE: We all have been working with the community there in Islamberg. And never have we found any shred of evidence that would indicate anything whatsoever.

MANN: But frightening reports about Islamberg have continued to appear online. And they've been featured on Fox News and Fox Business and other outlets. Anti-Muslim protests have been held near the community. And in 2017, a right-wing activist from Tennessee was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison after he used Facebook to build support for an attack on Islamberg's mosque and school. At the press conference Rashid Clark, Islamberg's leader, blasted news and social media organizations, accusing them of helping spread fear about Islam.


R CLARK: Holy Islamberg is a small community - mostly women, children. We have elderly. We hold jobs. We are doctors, lawyers, engineers, construction workers. We're normal people.

MANN: Tahirah Clark, an attorney who lives in Islamberg, noted that two of the suspects arrested in this latest plot are high school students. She cautioned parents about the information about Islam their children are seeing online.


TAHIRAH CLARK: We urge parents to be vigilant. Know what your children are doing, particularly on social media, because many are being radicalized by hate by the right-wing domestic terrorists.

MANN: Much of the false information targeting Islamberg was stripped from the Internet last year after conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was banned by YouTube, Facebook and other sites. But an online search by NPR turned up plenty of websites and videos that still describe the families living there as a threat. State police say they've stepped up patrols around Islamberg and their investigation into this latest plot continues. Authorities say more arrests are possible. Brian Mann, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.